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Frie, Arndt & Danborn Blog

Real estate gone awry, gone away?

by Jim Arndt

Real estate gone awry, gone away?

Lately I’ve met with several clients who have discouraging real estate problems. In almost every case, these problems could have been avoided by checking with a lawyer before a transaction was completed.

Here are some examples of the types of cases I’m talking about.

I have met with several people who have gotten married later in life, typically a second or third marriage, but not always. It seems very logical when one takes this step to modify the way property is owned to reflect a willingness to share. For example, you might add your new spouse’s name to the title of a house you’ve lived in for a long time. However, this can be exceptionally depressing if the marriage ends in divorce. Colorado law is clear that if you do this, you have made a “gift to the marriage” of one-half of the equity in the home. This greatly increases the value of the recipient spouse’s share in the property

I have met with more than one young man who was in a romantic relationship with another and they acquired real estate together. Sometimes at the last minute, the couple decided to put the property in the name of just one of the partners. There are always logical and seemingly compelling reasons to do this. Of course, there was no written agreement between the parties as to their agreement and their “real” ownership interests.

When the romance ends, the property “magically” becomes the sole property of the record owner. Trying to claw your way onto the title is expensive and time-consuming, and adds immeasurably to the heartbreak.

One of my partners is deeply embroiled in a case where an older person is trying to undo a deed with which they vested a stepchild with an interest in real property to the detriment of his own children. Now, of course, the family is in an uproar and dad wants to undo the earlier transaction.  Hard to do.

Refinancing poses its own hazards. Lots of times the lender or an underwriter requires modifying title to reflect what suits the lender. The results of such juggling may not always serve the client. I met with a woman whose name was on the deed to the house she owned with her husband for 23 years. They refinanced a couple of years ago and she mysteriously signed a Quit Claim deed giving away her interest in the property. What?

Sometimes these nasty circumstances are discovered late, and require really urgent attention to fix, if they can be fixed.

Of course many of these cases would not be on my desk if the partners or lovers or spouses were people of integrity. But you’d be surprised how often a person loses their integrity when there are several thousand dollars at stake.

We urge you to treat any transaction affecting real estate as posing a threat to your individual financial well-being. Spending $300 or even less for a review by one of our attorneys will look so inexpensive when you compare it to spending thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to try to right a wrong.

Please proceed with caution.