Advice: Property in Will

My partner of 20 years passed away. Can I keep our house?

Dear Yetta:

I was in a relationship with my partner for more than 20 years. She recently passed away. We were not married but she did have a will. We owned a house which she didn’t mention in the will because we thought it would automatically pass to me since my name was on the title with her. The attorneys for the estate are now telling me that the house was purchased as “tenants in common” and not as “joint tenants,” and that her half will instead pass to her very homophobic parents. What does that mean and how can that happen? I don’t want to have to share my home with her parents.

-Heartbroken and Homewrecked

Dear Heartbroken,

First, please accept my condolences. It’s devastating to have to deal with this while grieving the loss of your partner.

It sounds like the attorneys who handled the purchase of your home didn’t understand the status of your relationship, and therefore didn’t properly indicate how you wanted to own the property.

In New York, when business partners and non-spouses purchase property together, it’s most often titled as “tenants in common.” That means each of you owns half of the property separately. Your portion then passes to your heirs.

However, most spouses purchase property as ‘joint tenants’—though you don’t need to be married or even romantically involved—who want to share the property and give each other the ‘right of survivorship.’  In this case, your property will go to the other joint tenant rather than your heirs. Had your title reflected this, you would have automatically inherited the property you shared with your partner as sole owner.

It’s a hard lesson to learn. My suggestion to you: either convince your less-than-accepting in-laws to renounce the inheritance and let you keep the home; or, you could force them to let you ‘buy back’ the other half of the home by paying them one half the value of the property in a partition action.

Good luck,

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*This column is not a consultation with an attorney and should in no way be construed as such or as a substitute for such consultation. Anyone with legal issues or concerns should seek the advice of her own attorney

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