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  • Attorney Bob Mannor, CELA

Deed Dangers: Be Aware!

As we age, it's natural to start thinking about the legacy we'll leave behind. For many of us, a significant part of that legacy is our home. It's where we've built memories, raised families, and created a sense of security. But did you know there's a hidden danger lurking within the paperwork of homeownership? That’s why all aging homeowners should understand their property deeds - and as an elder law and estate planning attorney, I've seen firsthand how crucial it is to be aware of the potential pitfalls surrounding these documents.

So, what exactly is a deed, and why is it so important?

In simple terms, a deed is a legal document that transfers ownership of a property from one person to another. Sounds straightforward, right? Well, not quite.

One common misconception among aging homeowners is that simply owning their home outright means they have complete control over it. However, the way a property is titled can have significant implications, especially as we age and plan for the future.

One such common deed type is called joint tenancy with right of survivorship. Many people use this ownership structure as a way to avoid probate.  However, it may operate so that the property is not inherited by the person who you want to inherit.  Under this deed type, the property will go 100% to whoever lives longer, so the family of the joint owner that dies first gets nothing.  For example, if you own property with your sister under this type of deed, and you die first, your kids get nothing. This type of ownership cannot be willed to your kids or put in a trust. You are not even able to deed your share to someone else without the consent and signature of the other joint owner who owns the right of survivorship.  

Deeds are not simple so the complexity of these documents should not be underestimated. Who really owns the property, and what they can legally do with it depends on whether the ownership structure creates tenants-in-common, joint tenants, tenants by the entirety, or a life estate.The concern is, even the placement of a single comma can significantly impact the legal interpretation of which type of ownership structure is described by the deed. 

What can homeowners do to protect themselves and their property?

Because something as small as a punctuation mark can alter the meaning of property descriptions, ownership rights, and obligations of a deed, it’s important to work with an experienced elder law attorney who can help navigate the complexities of property ownership and estate planning. Just like you wouldn't perform your own surgery, even if you have a general understanding of the human body, legal matters require specialized expertise to ensure the best possible outcome.

By understanding the potential dangers of deeds, and taking proactive steps to address them, aging homeowners can ensure that their homes remain a source of security and stability for generations to come. After all, when it comes to our legacy, knowledge truly is power.

The Mannor Law Group specializes in elder law, estate planning and administration, probate, Medicaid, life care and dementia planning. The team won the prestigious Commitment to Caring Award from the Dementia Focused Practice consultants. For more information, visit, or call 810.645.8426.

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