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Review of deeds and life estates needed

By ERIC FEICHTHALER - Real Estate Law | Sep 3, 2020

Dear Mr. Feichthaler,

I am in my second marriage and may need some help. When I first bought our home, my wife and I were not married, and we contributed uneven amounts. We tried to write deeds to reflect this, showing one of us holding a one-third interest, the other two-thirds interest. Later, we attempted to grant each other a life estate in our respective interests, to make sure the other wouldn’t lose the house. We have now been married for five years, and just want the simplest way to allow for the survivor to own the house outright, and be able to sell it if they wish. What is the best way to handle this?

— George S.

Dear George,

In my practice, I frequently have situations where owners of property attempt to write their own deeds to accomplish certain goals. Many times, those deeds do not result in the desired outcome, and sometimes complicates the chain of title to the point where legal action may be required to determine what rights are owned by various parties.

Assuming all of the deeds were properly witnessed and notarized, the key will be for both of you to transfer all of your interests, both direct ownership and the life estates. The description of the ownership interests are vital, with the naming of the two of you as Husband and Wife as grantee. This will allow the surviving spouse full ownership of the house.

If all interests are not properly described in the deed, the surviving spouse may own something other than full ownership of the property, which may preclude them from selling or refinancing.

Also, with title issues, probate is much more likely upon the passing of both owners. I recommend you have all deeds reviewed by an attorney to ensure your wishes are met.

Eric P. Feichthaler has lived in Cape Coral for over 30 years and graduated from Mariner High School in Cape Coral. After completing law school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he returned to Southwest Florida to practice law and raise a family. He served as mayor of Cape Coral from 2005-2008, and continues his service to the community through the Cape Coral Caring Center, Cape Coral Historical Museum, and Cape Coral Kiwanis. He has been married to his wife, Mary, for over 18 years, and they have four children together. He earned his board certification in Real Estate Law from the Florida Bar. He is AV Preeminent rated by Martindale-Hubbell for professional ethics and legal ability, and is a Supreme Court Certified Circuit Civil Mediator.

Mr. Feichthaler can be reached at eric@capecoralattorney.com, or (239) 542-4733.

This article is general in nature and not intended as legal advice to anyone. Individuals should seek legal counsel before acting on any matter of legal rights and obligations.