Dear Dr. Don,
My brother is the co-signer of my father’s house. If my father passes away before he drafts a will, does the house automatically go to my brother?
— Megan Misgivings

Dear Megan,
There’s a difference between being on the loan as a co-signer and on the deed as an owner.

If your father dies without a will, the situation is known as “dying intestate.” Intestate succession varies by state. The CCH Financial Planning Toolkit Web site on intestate succession lets you click on your dad’s state of residence to review the provisions for that state.

You may be able to look up the ownership of the home online using the public records of the community where your dad lives. Checking either the clerk of court or the county property appraiser may be helpful.

While all this stealth work can be fun and informative, I’m a fan of the direct approach. Ask your dad who’s on the deed and who gets the house when he dies. Talk to him about why you think he should have a will so that he doesn’t die intestate. The CCH site can help you make those points with your father.

To ask a question of Dr. Don, go to the “Ask the Experts” page, and select one of these topics: “Financing a home,” “Saving & investing” or “money.”