After co-owner dies, can survivor sell?

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Dear Real Estate Adviser,
My mother recently passed away. Her name is on the deed with me. How can I remove her name and establish clear ownership so I can sell the house? We owned it outright.
— B.

Dear B.,
So sorry to hear of your mother’s passing. It’s a stressful time and there are so many little details to deal with on top of selling a house.

There are generally two ways that one or more persons can own a home, either through a joint tenancy with the rights of survivorship or a tenant-in-common arrangement. If you co-owned it under the rights of survivorship structure, which in your circumstances is more likely than the tenant-in-common arrangement, you became the sole legal owner of the home upon your mom’s death. Even if you don’t have your mother’s name removed from the title, all that’s needed for you to sell the home in most cases is a certified copy of her death certificate. The new deed, in turn, will reflect the conveyance solely from you to the new owner. However, as an FYI to other readers, some banks will not refinance a home until a deceased joint tenant is formally taken off the title.

In the event you two had a tenant-in-common arrangement, which does not have the right of survivorship over property, it’s possible you’ll have to go through the probate process unless the deed specifically lists you as a “joint tenant in common with full rights of survivorship” or you are listed as heir to the home in her will. In some cases, signing something called an “affidavit of death of joint tenant” with witness signatures may be enough to remove your deceased mom’s name from the deed. But you should talk with an estate attorney if a tenant-in-common legal structure is involved because state laws — and their enforcement — do vary.

By the way, absent of any specific heir language on the deed or in the will, the legal presumption for a deed listing parent and child is generally a tenant-in-common arrangement.

Good luck in selling the home!

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