Law News and Tips


Fred Vilbig - Thursday, August 28, 2014

I got a call some time ago from a woman who was in tears. She was crying so hard I could barely understand her. When I finally got her to compose herself a little, the first thing I heard was “My daughter won’t let me sell my house.”

That, of course, raised a lot of questions in my mind, so I started asking my questions. It turns out that a bank teller (typically a source of batted five’s, by the way) had been talking to the mom. The mom and heard horror stories about probate, and the teller told her she could avoid probate by putting her daughter’s name on things.

I understand why she said that, but it was bad advice. A bank account is governed by federal law that says either joint owner can deposit or withdraw any or all of the money in the account.

That isn’t the case with any other joint property. In all other cases of jointly held assets, all joint owners must join in transactions affecting the joint property. So when the mother put her daughter’s name on the house, she gave up control.

Time passed, and the mother aged. Now she needed to go into a nursing home. To do that she needed to sell her house, and her daughter was saying no. It was her inheritance, so why would she want to jeopardize that. Mom would have to make do.

I don’t know how this situation got resolved. Did the daughter relent or did the mother have to stay in the house until she died? In any case, the moral of the story is that joint ownership can be a real problem.

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