Question: Recently my husband passed away. We had been married eight years and he was always going to get a quitclaim deed and have my name put on the deed. However, this never did get done, so as a result if I sell the house I have found out that I need a signed from each one of his children stating that the house is mine to sell. Is this information correct?

Answer: Before anyone signs anything, did your husband have a will? If yes, what does it say about the house? If your husband did not have a will, then the government will distribute the assets from his estate according to the laws in your state.

Imagine that his children did sign away their interest in the house to you. Would they owe taxes because of the size of their gift?

It's possible that you already own the house outright through the will, and probable that you at least own a portion as a result of state law if there is no will.

Question: How should my rent be handled if I'm living with a friend and her son. She has recently purchased a home and I found out that in her eyes it's fair to split her mortgage down the middle with me. I do not feel this is fair due to tax breaks she will receive and simply the fact that she owns the home. Am I in the wrong?

Answer: Yes. It's her house. It was bought with her cash and her credit. You're her friend, not a co-owner.

Financial matters between friends are often difficult, but in this case the "golden rule" applies: The one with the gold rules.

Question: We bought our first home four years ago with a $280,000 mortgage for 30 years at 6 7/8 percent.Two years later,we refinanced for 20 years at 5.5 percent, adding $100 more to our monthly payment. I'm almost sure that we now have $80,000 to $100,000 equity in our house. Is it practical to refinance again for 30 years, make the same monthly payment, and take some cash out of the property for investing?

Answer: Let's say you have a $280,000 mortgage at 5.5 percent for 20 years. The monthly payment for principal and interest would be $1,926. Over 30 years and at the same interest rate, $1,926 would allow you to borrow $339,225 -- an extra $59,225. So yes, if you need $60,000 or so it should be easy to get at your current payment level.

Question: If an elderly gentleman owns a house and land where values continue to rise, is there a way to leverage the equity to establish an educational or general trust fund for grandchildren while still continuing to live there? There is no debt on the current property.

Answer: The real question here is how to free equity -- and when.

This is an ideal time for the owner to meet with an attorney who specializes in elder law to create a will, living will and other appropriate paperwork to spell out his preferences. An enormous proportion of the estate's value can be lost without such formalities.

Does the owner have to set aside actual money at this time? If a number of years will pass before the money is needed then it may be wise to not borrow and rack-up interest costs. Instead, see if it's possible to create a trust now that will be funded by the estate at the time the owner passes away.

If the money is needed immediately, then it would be best to get education loans rather than to finance the property. Why? Interest rates for education loans are low. When the owner dies then the heirs can use the proceeds from the estate to re-pay the education loans.

A more complex approach could work like this: The owner sells the property but retains a life estate. That produces cash now and allows the owner to remain on the property. However, there may be substantial tax issues plus few buyers want to purchase a property without obtaining possession in the short term.

In one case, a property was donated to an historic organization with the understanding that the owner's daughter would have a life estate and that the group would maintain the home. Some 60 years later the historic group finally got the property...

Question: I'm a disabled person who is cared for by my son. I purchased my home in 1991. I'm not doing too good physically, and this kind of scares me. I want to make sure that my home will go to my son in the event of my death. The house will be paid for this coming December 2005. How do I change the paperwork on my home to where my son and I are "Tenants in Common"?

Answer: By changing the title you could cause the loan to be immediately become due and payable and you might also be subject to gift taxes.

Instead, please create a proper will and a living will. They can assure that your son will inherit the property, most likely without any tax consequences. An attorney can explain the details.

Question: Would you recommend someone who is really knowledgeable in real estate investments for people who do not have too much money but would like actively invest. Someone who is honest and not a schemer.

Answer: If you want to become a first-time real estate investor then your first step should be to take the basic real estate licensure course for your state. You can learn a broad range of material -- and you can qualify to take the license test for salespeople.

In addition, you want to read lots of books, take classes that do not promise to make you rich and speak with local investors, brokers, property managers, attorneys and others who deal in real estate on a daily basis.

Question: If a building has been donated to disabled individuals can it be sold by the Board of Directors?

Answer: In the world of wills and estates there are restricted donations and general donations. You can find cases where property or money have been donated for a specific purpose -- and no other purpose.

To determine what a board of directors might do or not do, it is first necessary to see what authority they were granted by the donor. Also, if the property is sold then one would have to ask whether the proceeds of the sale will be used in a manner consistent with the donation.

Courts will go to great lengths to follow the direction of a will. However, there are instances when courts will invoke the "doctrine of deviation" and allow something not permitted in a will. For details, speak with a local attorney or legal clinic.

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