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Friday, September 30, 2016

Only my name is on the title. Will my wife get my house when I pass away?

I'm always glad to see questions from people who want to clarify their situations. It's so much better to find out important information while you still have a chance to act on it than it is to overlook potential problems, but it's not always easy to find specific answers.A reader recently wrote to me to ask about the title to his home:

"My wife and I bought a house after marriage. She was abroad on the closing date so the house title and mortgage only have my name on it. In this case are we joint tenants or tenants-in-common? If I pass away will my wife automatically becomes owner of the house without my will?"

You are neither joint tenants nor tenants-in-common. You need more than one name on a title to be either one of those things, and you said only your name is on your title.

Whether or not your wife would automatically gain ownership of the home is not going to be based on the title, since the title as it stands gives her nothing. However, there are other factors that could result in her becoming entitled to own the house even if you don't have a will, such as:
- you pass away leaving only your wife and no children, and your whole estate passes to her, with the house being part of that;
- you live in a province which treats the matrimonial home as joint property where the sole owner spouse dies, or one in which she can elect to keep the home.

You would create a lot more certainty and peace of mind by having a will prepared in which you leave the house to your wife. Remember that the contents of a house are not part of the title and be sure to deal with those as well.

Another option is to change the title on the house to something that suits you better. The fact that it was set up so that  you are the sole owner doesn't mean that it always has to be that way. You can transfer the house into both of your names at any time. Money does not have to change hands.If you changed the title from your name into a joint arrangement with your wife you would be able to achieve your stated goal of having the house pass to her on your death.

I would caution you that I can't really tell you whether changing the house into joint names would be a good idea in  your case. I just don't know anything about your financial position, debts, risk of litigation, tax exposure, pre-nuptial agreement, family arrangements or anything else. If you think that putting the house in joint names is a good idea, I urge you to consider it in the bigger picture. Don't think of the house on its own, but instead think about it as one piece of your financial picture to ensure that you don't create new problems just by changing the title.

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