Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Boy meets girl.  Boy falls in love with girl.  Boy and girl buy a house together and that's when all hell breaks lose.  You see, in this story only girl signed the promissory note because boy had bad credit. Girl cannot really afford the house without a paying roommate.  But, boy is such a flake that he is not paying his part and girl is going broke paying all the mortgage. 

This really makes girl mad because, after the break up, he promised to pay rent.  Now the courts are involved because girl wants boy out but he refuses to leave claiming that since he is on the title to the home he has the right to live there.  Moreover, boy’s lawsuit claims that girl gave half the house to boy for his down payment of $2,000.00.  Of course he is lying, but boy and girl never bothered to write down any of their agreements. 

Several months later boy dies and boy's 18 year old son from another relationship wants 1/2 of girl's house in the probate of boy's estate.  Now girl is spending thousands in attorneys' fees trying to sort out the mess.  Ah . . . its a love story as old as time.  Frankly, I wish stories like this were not true.  However, because people fail to plan and fail to seek good advice, this story is all too real.    

Here are 3 simple ideas that can help you avoid problems when buying property with someone other than a legal spouse. 

1.  GET GOOD ADVICE ON TITLE:  Decide now how to title the property, whether it be joint tenants with right of survivorship, tenants in common with 50/50 ownership, tenants in common with some unequal division of ownership, or some other form of ownership such as through a trust or business form.  In simple terms, “title” means ownership.  If you do not define your ownership interest well, you will have unintended consequences.  You should counsel with a qualified real estate attorney about the type of title you should seek. 

2.  GET A GOOD CONTRACT:  I know you trust him/her and I know he/she is a great person, and I know that contracts are not romantic, but it's the law.  Contracts for real property must be in writing, otherwise the contract may be unenforceable.  Therefore, if you want to buy real property with someone other than your legal spouse, get a contract written up between you that reflects your agreement about payment, ownership interests, disposing of the property, or any other concerns you may have.  Otherwise, you will leave these decisions to the courts, which is not a good idea. 

3.  STICK TO THE CONTRACT OR GET A NEW ONE:  People often change contract terms after signing the agreement.  This typically arises when a party has a change is situation that prevents him or her from fulfilling the terms.  Therefore, the parties make new terms that modify the original contract.  In theory, modifying the terms of the contract is not a problem. However, when those modifications are not in writing, it presents a problem of proof in the courtroom.  Moreover, only some changes to contracts are recognized by the law as binding.  So, either stick to the original contract terms or get a new written contract.  

This is just a primer on ways to avoid pitfalls of buying property with someone other than your legal spouse.  With just a little planning, you can avoid a lot of heartache.   

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