Category: Home

Inheriting a Home with a Mortgage

Inheriting a Home with a Mortgage

Inheriting a home with a mortgage adds another layer of complexity to settling the estate, as explained in a recent article from Investopedia titled “Inheriting a House With a Mortgage.” The lender needs to be notified right away of the owner’s passing and the estate must continue to make regular payments on the existing mortgage. Depending on how the estate was set up, it may be a struggle to make monthly payments, especially if the estate must first go through probate.

Probate is the process where the court reviews the will to ensure that it is valid and establish the executor as the person empowered to manage the estate. The executor will need to provide the mortgage holder with a copy of the death certificate and a document affirming their role as executor to be able to speak with the lending company on behalf of the estate.

If multiple people have inherited a portion of the house, some tough decisions will need to be made. The simplest solution is often to sell the home, pay off the mortgage and split the proceeds evenly.

If some of the heirs wish to keep the home as a residence or a rental property, those who wish to keep the home need to buy out the interest of those who don’t want the house. When the house has a mortgage, the math can get complicated. An estate planning attorney will be able to map out a way forward to keep the sale of the shares from getting tangled up in the emotions of grieving family members.

If one heir has invested time and resources into the property and others have not, it gets even more complex. Family members may take the position that the person who invested so much in the property was also living there rent free, and things can get ugly. The involvement of an estate planning attorney can keep the transfer focused as a business transaction.

What if the house has a reverse mortgage? In this case, the reverse mortgage company needs to be notified. You’ll need to find out the existing balance due on the reverse mortgage. If the estate does not have the funds to pay the balance, there is the option of refinancing the property to pay off the balance due, if the wish is to keep the house. If there’s not enough equity or the heirs can’t refinance, they typically sell the house to pay off the reverse mortgage.

Can heirs take over the existing loan? Your estate planning attorney will be able to advise the family of their rights, which are different than rights of homeowners. Lenders in some circumstances may allow heirs to be added to the existing mortgage without going through a full loan application and verifying credit history, income, etc. However, if you chose to refinance or take out a home equity loan, you’ll have to go through the usual process.

Inheriting a home with a mortgage or a reverse mortgage can be a stressful process during an already difficult time. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to guide the family through their options and help with the rest of the estate. If you would like to learn more about inheriting real property, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Investopedia (April 12, 2022) “Inheriting a House With a Mortgage”

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What Do You Need to Age in Place?

What Do You Need to Age in Place?

Many Americans prefer the idea of living out their gold years at home and “age in place”, rather than relying on family or assisted living. So what do you need to age in place? Home modification is the official term (from the Americans with Disabilities Act) for renovations and remodels aimed for use by the elderly or the impaired. It means physically changing your home, removing potential hazards and making it more accessible, so you can continue living in it independently.

Bankrate’s recent article entitled “The best home modifications for aging in place” reports that home modifications can be pricey—typically ranging from $3,000 to $15,000, with the average national spend being $9,500. However, it can be a worthwhile investment. You can save money by doing the right home modifications. That is because the longer you can safely live in your home, the less you will need to pay for assisted living care.

The best aging-in-place home modifications align with “universal design,” an architectural term for features that are easy for all to use and adaptable, as needs dictate. This includes additions and changes to the exterior and interior of a home. Some of the simplest home modifications include DIY jobs:

  • Adding easy-grip knobs and pulls, swapping knobs for levers
  • Installing adjustable handheld shower heads
  • Rearranging furniture for better movement
  • Removing trip hazards; and
  • Installing mats and non-slip floor coverings.

Next, are some more complex home modifications. These probably would need a professional contractor, especially if you want them up to code standards:

  • Installing handrails
  • Adding automatic outdoor lighting
  • Installing automatic push-button doors
  • Leveling flooring; and
  • Installing doorway ramps

There are also home modifications that can be done by room:

  • In the bathroom, installing grab bars and railing, a roll- or walk-in shower/tub, or a shower bench
  • In the kitchen: adding higher countertops, lever or touchless faucets and cabinet pull-out shelves
  • For the bedroom, use a less-high bed, non-slip floor, walk-in closets and motion-activated lights
  • Outside, you can add ramps, a porch or stair lifts, and automatic push button doors.

Finally, throughout the house, keep things well-lit and widen hallways and doorways; add a first-level master suite, elevators or chair lifts, “smart” window shades/thermostats/lighting and simpler windows.

Note that some home modifications may qualify as medical expenses. As a result, they are eligible for an itemized deduction on your income tax return. A home modification may be tax-deductible as a medical expense, if it has made to accommodate the disabilities (preferably documented by a physician or other health care provider) of someone who lives in the home, according to the IRS. Home modifications may not be the only thing you need to age in place. Speak with an experienced elder law attorney who will be familiar with many of the types of assistance available to keep you in your home. If you would like to learn more about elder care, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Bankrate (March 30, 2022) “The best home modifications for aging in place”

 

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Estate Planning complicated by Property in Two States

Estate Planning complicated by Property in Two States

Estate planning can be complicated by property in two states. Cleveland Jewish News’ recent article titled “Use attorney when considering multi-state estate plan says that if a person owns real estate or other tangible property (like a boat) in another state, they should think about creating a trust that can hold all their real estate. You don’t need one for each state. You can assign or deed their property to the trust, no matter where the property is located.

Some inherited assets require taxes be paid by the inheritors. Those taxes are determined by the laws of the state in which the asset is located.

A big mistake that people frequently make is not creating a trust. When a person fails to do this, their assets will go to probate. Some other common errors include improperly titling the property in their trust or failing to fund the trust. When those things occur, ancillary probate is required.  This means a probate estate needs to be opened in the other state. As a result, there may be two probate estates going on in two different states, which can mean twice the work and expense, as well as twice the stress.

Having two estates going through probate simultaneously in two different states can delay the time it takes to close the probate estate.

There are some other options besides using a trust to avoid filing an ancillary estate. Most states let an estate holder file a “transfer on death affidavit,” also known as a “transfer on death deed” or “beneficiary deed” when the asset is real estate. This permits property to go directly to a beneficiary without needing to go through probate.

A real estate owner may also avoid probate by appointing a co-owner with survivorship rights on the deed. Do not attempt this without consulting an attorney.

If you have real estate, like a second home, in another state (and) you die owning that individually, you’re going to have to probate that in the state where it’s located. It is usually best to avoid probate in multiple jurisdictions, and also to avoid probate altogether.

A co-owner with survivorship is an option for avoiding probate. If there’s no surviving spouse, or after the first one dies, you could transfer the estate to their revocable trust.

Estate planning can be complicated by property in two states. Each state has different requirements. If you’re going to move to another state or have property in another state, you should consult with a local estate planning attorney. If you would like to learn more about managing real estate in your estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Cleveland Jewish News (March 21, 2022) “Use attorney when considering multi-state estate plan”

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Debt doesn’t disappear when someone dies

Debt doesn’t Disappear when Someone Dies

There are two common myths about what happens when parents die in debt, says a recent article “How your parents’ debt could outlive them” from the Greenfield Reporter. One is the adult child will be liable for the debt. The second is that the adult child won’t. Debt doesn’t disappear when someone dies.

If your parents have significant debts and you are concerned about what the future may bring, talk with an estate planning attorney for guidance. Here’s some of what you need to know.

Creditors file claims against the estate, and in most instances, those debts must be paid before assets are distributed to heirs. Surprisingly to heirs, creditors are allowed to contact relatives about the debts, even if those family members don’t have any legal obligation to pay the debts. Collection agencies in many states are required to affirmatively state that the family members are not obligated to pay the debt, but they may not always comply.

Some family members feel they need to dig into their own pockets and pay the debt. Speak with an estate planning lawyer before taking this action, because the estate may not have any obligation to reimburse you.

For the most part, family members don’t have to use their own money to pay a loved one’s debts, unless they co-signed a loan, are a joint-account holder or agreed to be held responsible for the debt. Other reasons someone may be obligated include living in a state requiring surviving spouses to pay medical bills or other outstanding debts. If you live in a community property state, a spouse may be liable for a spouse’s debts.

Executors are required to distribute money to creditors first. Therefore, if you distributed all the assets and then planned on “getting around” to paying creditors and ran out of funds, you could be sued for the outstanding debts.

More than half of the states still have “filial responsibility” laws to require adult children to pay parents’ bills. These are old laws left over from when America had debtors’ prisons. They are rarely enforced, but there was a case in 2012 when a nursing home used Pennsylvania’s law and successfully sued a son for his mother’s $93,0000 nursing home bill. An estate planning attorney practicing in the state of your parents’ residence is your best source of the state’s law and enforcement.

If a person dies with more debts than assets, their estate is considered insolvent. The state’s law determines the order of bill payment. Legal and estate administration fees are paid first, followed by funeral and burial expenses. If there are dependent children or spouses, there may be a temporary living allowance left for them. Secured debt, like a home mortgage or car loan, must be repaid or refinanced. Otherwise, the lender may reclaim the property. Federal taxes and any federal debts get top priority for repayment, followed by any debts owed to state taxes.

If the person was receiving Medicaid for nursing home care, the state may file a claim against the estate or file a lien against the home. These laws and procedures all vary from state to state, so you’ll need to talk with an elder law attorney.

Many creditors won’t bother filing a claim against an insolvent estate, but they may go after family members. Debt collection agencies are legally permitted to contact a surviving spouse or executor, or to contact relatives to ask how to reach the spouse or executor.

Debt doesn’t disappear when someone dies. Planning in advance is the best route. However, if parents are resistant to talking about money, or incapacitated, speak with an estate planning attorney to learn how to protect your parents and yourself. If you would like to learn more about managing debt and property after a loved one passes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Greenfield Reporter (Feb. 3, 2022) “How your parents’ debt could outlive them”

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Is Your Home an Asset or Liability?

Is Your Home an Asset or Liability?

Is your home an asset or a liability? If you’re a homeowner who’s ready to retire, you’ve most likely worked to pay off the home, while dreaming of the day when you could relax and live a mortgage-free, life while enjoying the fruits of your labor. However, Real Simple’s recent article entitled “For Retirees, a Home Could Be Your Largest Asset—or Your Biggest Liability” provides important food for thought.

Signs Your Home Is Your Largest Asset. A home can be one of your biggest assets because of the equity that’s been built up. You’ll be able to pass it on to your heirs, and they get a step-up in cost basis to the current market value. This will significantly reduce capital gains taxes, if the home is later sold by your children. With that equity, you can take money out of the house in a home equity line of credit. If your 62 or older with a substantial amount of equity in your home, it can be used as collateral for a reverse mortgage.

Signs Your Home Is Your Biggest Liability. A home can be a liability when it’s worth considerably less than what you paid for it, especially if you have a mortgage. The last thing you want when you’re retiring is to be saddled with a debt that has no equity. Your home could be also considered a liability, if it falls under the category of an expense that you have to manage, such as a mortgage, homeowner’s insurance, municipal taxes, repair or renovation costs, or homeowner’s association fees.

Stay or Sell? Take a holistic approach to what you want in your retirement years and determine what importance you place on your living space. The answer to this is at the core of deciding if you need to downsize. If you decide to sell your home and downsize to something less expensive, be sure to save part of the proceeds from the home’s sale. You can use that money to fund traveling, hobbies, the cost of living, or any other project in retirement.

You should also try to be more objective in evaluating your home as an asset or a liability. Retirement-aged homeowners generally choose one of these options: (i) plan to pay off your mortgage before your target retirement date; (ii) get a reverse mortgage that pays out over a specified time period; (iii) rent out the home for cashflow or offset a monthly cash flow deficit, if you have a mortgage; or (iv) sell the home in the future.

If you decide to stay in your home, there are several ways to monetize home equity in retirement, such as needs-based government programs like property tax abatements or home improvement forgivable grant programs. As alternatives to a reverse mortgage, you could tap into loan products such as a home equity line of credit or a conventional mortgage loan. The bottom line is you can plan ahead to ensure your home is an asset to your estate and not a liability. If you would like to learn more about managing a home in estate planning, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Real Simple (Nov. 1, 2021) “For Retirees, a Home Could Be Your Largest Asset—or Your Biggest Liability”

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Understanding how a Life Estate works

Understanding how a Life Estate works

A life estate allows two or more people to jointly own real estate property. It can be complicated, so it is important to have an understanding of how a life estate works. Parents often use life estates to leave the family home to children, while remaining in the house for the rest of their lives. However, sometimes things don’t work out as intended. If and how changes may be made to a life estate is the focus of a recent article “How to Remove Someone from a Life Estate” from Yahoo! Finance. For the life estate to be flexible, certain provisions must be in the document when it is first created. An experienced estate planning attorney is needed to do this right.

One person, referred to as the “life tenant” has ownership of the property for as long as they live. The other person, called the “remainderman,” takes possession only after the life tenant’s death. Multiple people can be named as life tenant and remainderman. However, the more people involved, the more complicated this arrangement becomes.

The remainderman has an unusual position. They don’t have full possession of the property until the life tenant dies, yet they have an interest in the property. The life tenant is not allowed to do certain things, like take out a mortgage or sell the property, without the consent of the remainderman.

The remainderman must agree to any changes in any person or persons named as other remainderman. If there’s more than one, which happens when there’s more than one adult child, for instance, all of the remaindermen must agree, before any names on the life estate can be removed or changed.

If one of the remainderman becomes heavily indebted, has a contentious divorce, or is sued for a considerable sum, their share of the property could be lost to creditors, ex-spouses, or adversaries. In that case, removing the problematic remainderman could protect the value of the home.

Most life estates are irrevocable, and the laws concerning life estates vary by state.

One way to work around the need for remainderman approval, is to use a Testamentary Power of Appointment, a clause in a will permitting the life tenant to change the person to whom the property will be left upon death. Invoking the Power of Appointment doesn’t make the life estate invalid, so the tenant is still constrained from selling the property or taking any other actions without permission from the remaindermen.

The testamentary power of appointment does give the life tenant some negotiating muscle but must be built into the documents from the start.

Another trust used in this situation is the Nominee Realty Trust. This is a revocable trust holding legal title to real estate. A property owner files a new deed transferring ownership to the nominee realty trust. The trust specifies who receives the property after the owner’s death. The grantor of the nominee trust can direct the actions of the trustee, so the life tenant has the legal ability to tell the trustee to change the names of the remaindermen. This flexibility may be desirable when the children are problematic. This has to be set up when the life estate is first established.

There are occasions when the remainderman wants to terminate the interest of the life tenant. This is actually easier than removing or changing the remainderman but requires the life tenant to do something particularly egregious or illegal. The life tenant has certain rights: to rent out the property, to change or improve the property—as long as the property is being improved. The life tenant is responsible for paying taxes, maintaining the property and avoiding any liens being placed on the property.

If the life tenant does not fulfill their responsibilities or allows the property to lose value, it may be possible for the remainderman to have the life tenant’s interest terminated. However, that depends upon the provisions in the life estate. This option should be discussed and planned for when the life estate is created. This can be a complicated – and delicate – process. Make sure you have an understanding of how a life estate works when you consider using it to protect your family’s interest in your home. If you would like to learn more about life estates, and other ways of transferring ownership of property, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Yahoo! Finance (Dec. 16, 2021) “How to Remove Someone from a Life Estate”

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Trust provides more Protection than TOD

Trust provides more Protection than TOD

Many people incorporate a TOD, or “Transfer on Death” into their financial plan, thinking it will be easier for their loved ones than creating a trust. However, a trust provides more protection than a TOD. The article “TOD Accounts Versus Revocable Trusts—Which Is Better?” from Kiplinger explains how it really works.

The TOD account allows the account owner to name a beneficiary on an account who receives funds when the account owner dies. The TOD is often used for stocks, brokerage accounts, bonds and other non-retirement accounts. A POD, or “Payable on Death,” account is usually used for bank assets—cash.

The chief goal of a TOD or POD is to avoid probate. The beneficiaries receive assets directly, bypassing probate, keeping the assets out of the estate and transferring them faster than through probate. The beneficiary contacts the financial institution with an original death certificate and proof of identity.  The assets are then distributed to the beneficiary. Banks and financial institutions can be a bit exacting about determining identity, but most people have the needed documents.

There are pitfalls. For one thing, the executor of the estate may be empowered by law to seek contributions from POD and TOD beneficiaries to pay for the expenses of administering an estate, estate and final income taxes and any debts or liabilities of the estate. If the beneficiaries do not contribute voluntarily, the executor (or estate administrator) may file a lawsuit against them, holding them personally responsible, to get their contributions.

If the beneficiary has already spent the money, or they are involved in a lawsuit or divorce, turning over the TOD or POD assets may get complicated. Other personal assets may be attached to make up for a shortfall.

If the beneficiary is receiving means-tested government benefits, as in the case of an individual with special needs, the TOD or POD assets may put their eligibility for those benefits at risk.

These and other complications make using a POD or TOD arrangement riskier than expected.

A trust provides a great deal more protection for the person creating the trust (grantor) and their beneficiaries than a TOD. If the grantor becomes incapacitated, trustees will be in place to manage assets for the grantor’s benefit. With a TOD or POD, a Power of Attorney would be needed to allow the other person to control of the assets. The same banks reluctant to hand over a POD/TOD are even more strict about Powers of Attorney, even denying POAs, if they feel the forms are out-of-date or don’t have the state’s required language.

Creating a trust with an experienced estate planning attorney allows you to plan for yourself and your beneficiaries. You can plan for incapacity and plan for the assets in your trust to be used as you wish. If you want your adult children to receive a certain amount of money at certain ages or stages of their lives, a trust can be created to do so. You can also leave money for multiple generations, protecting it from probate and taxes, while building a legacy. If you would like to read more about a TOD or POD, and how they work, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (Dec. 2, 2021) “TOD Accounts Versus Revocable Trusts—Which Is Better?”

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What is an enhanced life estate?

What’s an Enhanced Life Estate?

What’s an enhanced life estate? This topic comes up from time to time with older couples of retirement age. First Coast News’ recent article entitled “Deed named for former first lady could be key to planning your estate” explains that a strategy that’s available in Florida and a few other states is called an enhanced life estate or a “Lady Bird” deed, named after former First Lady, Lady Bird Johnson.

This deed states that when I die, you get the property, but until then, I reserve all rights to do whatever I want with it. That contrasts with a traditional life estate where a property owner can plan for one or more others to inherit their house.

Typically, the person with a life estate has a lot less control over what happens in the future, including potentially being thwarted by the very person you’re tapping to receive your property at your death, in case you decide you no longer want the house while you’re still alive.

The problem is, now you want to sell the property, but since they are a co-owner, they can refuse. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

Enhanced life estates are also about protecting property and its eventual recipient from creditors after the death of the owner. That’s the benefit of avoiding probate. Medicaid or any other creditor may become a creditor in probate.

A Lady Bird deed supersedes a will.

But there are downsides to the Lady Bird deed. A big drawback is if you change your mind. You have to now record another deed in the public record to remove that, and every deed that you record creates one thing that could go wrong.

However, this can be true of any change made in hope of overriding an earlier estate decision, and Lady Bird deeds are fairly straightforward. Understanding what an enhanced life estate does will help avoid any pitfalls.  Ask an experienced estate planning attorney if this type of arrangement is available in your state.

If you would like to read more about enhanced life estates, or other types of deeds for property, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: First Coast News (July 19, 2021) “Deed named for former first lady could be key to planning your estate”

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Unrecorded deeds hurt estate planning

Unrecorded Deeds hurt Estate Planning

Using an unrecorded deed to transfer property without probate sounds like an easy way to transfer ownership of the family home, but is it asking for trouble in your estate planning? That’s the topic of an article from NWI Times entitled, “Estate Planning: Are unrecorded deeds a good idea?” The fact that the idea came from a family’s attorney makes the question even more important. The attorney told the parents the children could record the deed after their deaths and transfer the property without probate. Most estate planning attorneys haven’t seen this technique used in a long time, and some may never have heard of it. There’s probably a good reason for this—it’s an estate mess waiting to happen. Unrecorded deeds hurt estate planning.

First of all, what if the deed itself goes missing? One of the most common questions estate planning attorneys hear is “What do I do because Mom lost the_____?” Fill in the blanks—the deed, the title to the car, the bank statement, etc. Important documents often get lost. If a deed is missing and can’t be recorded, title can’t be transferred. Hoping an unrecorded deed doesn’t get lost could be devastating to your estate planning.

Until the unrecord deed is processed, and title transferred, the holders of the title still own the property. They can mortgage the property or sell it. The plan for the children to receive and record the deed may not have legal authority.

Laws about how deeds must be created change. Indiana made a change to the law in 2020 that required signatures on deeds to be witnessed. Without the witness, the deeds can’t be recorded. If the adult child is holding a deed for the recording and it’s not witnessed because the parents have died, it can’t be recorded.

There are better ways to transfer ownership of the family home than an unrecorded deed, that adhere to the general principles of estate planning.

There are also different types of deeds that are more commonly used in estate planning to transfer home ownership without going through probate. One is a Transfer on Death Deed (TOD Deeds). A TOD deed allows a person to name beneficiaries on their real estate property without giving up any rights of ownership. The TOD deed is recorded, so there’s no worry about mom or pop losing the paperwork.  The TOD deed can also be changed by recording another deed or using an affidavit.

Trusts can also be used to transfer home ownership and keep the transaction out of probate. Do not wait. Unrecorded deeds can hurt your estate planning. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain the different types of trusts used to transfer a home. State laws vary, and allowable trusts vary, so talking with a local estate planning attorney is the best option.

If you are interested in learning more about handling property in your planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: NWI Times (May23, 2021) “Estate Planning: Are unrecorded deeds a good idea?”

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take care when transferring house to children

Take Care when Transferring House to Children

It seems natural to want to protect your home in the event that you are unable to maintain it. A logical thought is to give it to your kids. You need to take care when transferring your house to children. Let us say the parent is 90 and has a will bequeathing a home to a child, a son. The house was purchased 20 years ago for $300,000 and is now worth about $400,000. The child stays there occasionally to help care for the parent, but he doesn’t live there. The parents’ estate is otherwise worth less than $1 million. Nj.com’s recent article entitled “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?” explains that there are two primary reasons why parents want to transfer their home to their children.

First, they think they will be able to protect the house, in the event the parent needs to move to a nursing home. Second, they want to avoid probate.

Because many states now have a simple probate process for smaller estates, probate avoidance alone isn’t a worthwhile rationale to transfer the house to a child.

The transfer of the house to a child who doesn’t live there will be subject to the look-back rule for Medicaid, which in most states is now five years. As a result, if a parent transfers the house to the child within five years of applying for Medicaid, the transfer will trigger a penalty which will begin when the Medicaid application is submitted. The length of the penalty period depends on the value of the house. Therefore, if the parent might require nursing home care in the next five years, the parent should have enough other assets to cover the penalty period or wait five years before applying for Medicaid.

In addition, the transfer of the house may also cause a significant capital gains tax liability to the child when the house is sold. That’s because the child will receive the house with the carryover basis of the parent. However, if the child inherits the house, the child will get a step-up in basis—the basis will be the value of the house at the date of the parent’s death.

If the parent transferring the house retains a life estate—the right to live in the house until he or she passes away—the property will get a step-up in basis to the value of the house at the date of death.  In the event that the house is sold while the parent is still alive, the value of the life estate interest will be excluded from income tax but the value of the child’s remainder interest in the house may be subject to capital gain taxes.

Last, if the house is transferred to a child who has financial troubles, the child’s creditors may be able to force the child to sell the house to pay his debts. Take care when transferring your house to children. Work with an estate planning attorney to ensure you have considered all the factors before you make a change in home ownership.

If you would like to learn more about gifting real property, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nj.com (April 20, 2021) “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact Texas Trust Law to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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