Ask a real estate pro: Will my good deed for sister come back to bite me?

Ask a real estate pro: Will my good deed for sister come back to bite me?

Ask a real estate pro: Will my good deed for sister come back to bite me?

Q: A while back, I tried to deed my sister a life estate in my house so she would have a place to live if I die before her. Someone just told me that her kids would get the property after she dies. This is not what I intended. Can I fix this? — Diane

A: A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Over the years I have seen many well-meaning people cause themselves significant grief by thinking that a free form would resolve their legal needs. The truth is often entirely different, and while I have seen some people plan their estate or deed their problem correctly, I have seen many more spend significantly more money than they thought they would save.

In reality, preventing a problem is always easier than solving one. For example, a balanced diet and regular exercise will cost you much less than a triple bypass during a monthlong stay in the hospital. This is not to say that it is impossible to prepare effective legal documents yourself. Instead, I am advising that: “When you are in doubt, wait until you find out.”

Your situation may not be as dire as you think. Your first step is to find out what effect the deed you prepared has. Ask someone who knows. While deeds and other legal documents can appear relatively simple, almost every word can have a specific meaning and impact.

If it turns out that you did vest a life estate in your sister, you will need to ask her to cooperate with you in correcting the title to your home to what you intended. Since it sounds like you have a good relationship with her, this should not present a problem. However, if your sister refuses to cooperate, you may need to go to court to try to get it resolved.

Your circumstances, along with the wording of your deed, will determine the outcome of your case.

Board-certified real estate lawyer Gary M. Singer writes about industry legal matters and the housing market at SunSentinel.com/real-estate each week. To ask him a question, email him at gary@garysingerlaw.com, or go to SunSentinel.com/askpro.

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