Goodspeed: Owning a home as a non-married couple

LINDA GOODSPEED
CORRESPONDENT
If the property was held jointly and one of the owners dies, their share of the property automatically goes to the other owner.

QUESTION: Ten years ago, I moved in with my girlfriend who had bought a house. I split the mortgage payment with her even though the house remained titled in just her name as was the mortgage loan. A few years later, we deeded the house in both our names even though we never got married. She died last year and I have continued to pay the mortgage. Is there any reason I need to put the loan in my name?

ANSWER: You actually have two issues to consider – not only whether you need to change the loan, but whether you even own the property.

Two people who are not married to each other can own property either jointly or in common. If the property was held jointly and one of the owners dies, their share of the property automatically goes to the other owner. But if the home was held in common, then the deceased owner’s part goes to his or her heirs.

You should examine the deed and look for the words, “as joint tenants with right of survivorship” after your names. If you see those words, or something similar, you owned the home jointly. If not, then the ownership is in common.

If the property was owned jointly, then the lender cannot make you pay off the loan because your girlfriend dies. But if the home was owned in common and her heirs do not occupy the house, the lender can make you pay the loan in full.

In reality, most lenders will let things stand as long as the loan payments come in on time. But it is always a good idea to do things the right way. You should contact the lender to deal with this situation.

You should be able to get the loan transferred quite easily. You may also want to look into refinancing the property. If your girlfriend took out the loan 10 years ago, it is a good bet that interest rates are lower.

Linda Goodspeed is a longtime real estate writer and author of “In and out of Darkness.” Email her at: lrgoodspeed@comcast.net.