Opinions on this house ownership problem

We have a good friend that lives nearby, and are worried about her situation.

30 years ago, her boyfriend bought a house, and she moved in with him. Five years later, he was killed. She continued living in the house and making payments and taxes.

Fast forward 25 years, and now the house has been paid off. She is quite thrilled, of course, and we congratulated her, but are secretly worried about this. I have no first hand information, but strongly believe her name is NOT on this title, as they were not married. State of Arizona.

If she stays put, no one will bother her about it or do anything. No one knows or cares as long as taxes get paid. But should she want or need to sell, what would happen? Would this house revert to the family of the dead guy? (He had no children). Just wondering about what options there might be in play here.

This definitely sounds like a question for an estate lawyer in whatever state she lives in. What should have happened is that the house was distributed to his heirs at the time of his death. Does he have any living heirs? But now that she’s been there so long, maybe she has squatters rights. Has she ever acted as him in that time by signing his name on documents? That might be concerning, as it could be seen as fraud.

One thing I’ve heard is that a 3rd party can pay the property taxes on a house and that money becomes like a lien and they can get paid back. So aside from the ownership question of the house, she should be able to recoup the taxes (and interest) she paid if any of his heirs later claim the house.

As you might expect, first recommendation is that she see a real estate lawyer.

I have little practical knowledge, but this does seem like the unusual sort of situation where adverse possession might come into play. I assume that no one whose name is on the title gave her permission to live there? Because otherwise, her possession seems to have been open and notorious.

Really weird that the dead BF’s estate was never probated. And some states (I believe) afford some rights to unmarried partners.

I don’t think that she derived any ownership interest by the mere fact of having made the payments on something that was legally someone else’s property.

Pretty sure she would have to pursue a “quiet title” suit or somesuch if she wanted to enjoy the proceeds of a sale.

A complicated situation indeed. Interested in hearing what others have to say.

Get an attorney, tout de suite.

Yeah, she should obviously get a lawyer. But what I am curious about is this. When he died, did no relative come asking about any estate he might have had? In any case, she would need a clear title to sell it.

Ditto the attorney but YOU could do a records search online on the county’s website and look up the deed. Being unmarried is not an issue if they had joint tenancy. A lot of unmarried couples and parents/children do that specifically to avoid probate.

Don’t know if he had family. He was a criminal and didn’t really have anything. He probably got into the house for a couple thousand down. She moved in at a later date, so was not involved in the purchase.

Yeah, maybe I will look it up. I’m just wrestling with the whole scenario in my mind, and I want to have an idea about what could/should/would happen in the future. The woman in question is a bit, er, different than most people, and she tends to gloss over things she should pay attention to. She’s very naive on many subjects. A lawyer will be the first thing out of my mouth if and when this comes up.

If his heirs are not well off, she should expect them to try to claim any and every thing they can. However, that would likely be the net value of the house at the time of his death. That would likely be the value of the house at the time of his death minus the remaining value of the mortgage. Depending on the housing market at the time, that may even be a negative value. I don’t think the heirs could claim the current value of the house.

The way it typically works if someone dies without a will is that the government will distribute the estate to the relatives depending on who he is related too. That might be spouse->children->parents->siblings->extended family… So even if he didn’t have any kids, there are people out there who should have received the house.

I’m sure if your friend thinks back, she’ll recall conversations where she and her boyfriend agreed that she would pay 1/2 the mortgage to live there. And she may even recall he said he wanted to get her added to the deed at some point. Remembering details like that will help her case.

nolo.com:

She should get a lawyer to help her nail it down, just in case some long-lost relative of her long-deceased BF comes out of the woodwork after all these years, but judging from the above and the OP’s description, that house is hers.

Interesting, thanks for that! Yeah, this case is a bit complicated. The house is not worth all that much relative to this market, more or less a “fixer upper extreme”. But it’s her whole world.

Perhaps it’s an obvious question, but presumably she received monthly statements from the lender. Is the dead guy the only name on those letters?

I dunno. I don’t ask. She’s a little weird about the whole episode, and we’re just picking up on this story 30 years after the fact. She’s not asking about any of this, but I am, as her friend, just curious out of concern. :wink:

That’s weird; presumably she’s been paying the mortgage, taxes and utilities all this time and is, as you said, “thrilled” that the mortgage is finally paid off, but hasn’t thought about whether she gets title to the house?

Yeah, as I said, she believes some weird shit. We have to choose our challenges to some of it. She has no TV or radio, does not know much about what’s going on outside of her garden. It’s odd, but not for me to judge. Other than that, she’s a lovely person. Again, I just hear this stuff she says, and I mostly do this: :eek::confused::rolleyes::frowning:

It sounds like as long as she keeps paying the taxes and no one asks any questions, she can live there as long as she likes. But if she tries to sell or his heirs realize what happened, it will be complicated to work out.

I could have misunderstood something, but it seems to me that it’s entirely possible that she’s on the deed and just hasn’t mentioned it to you. It’s not really something that comes up without a specific reason. I’ve mentioned to a number of people that my mortgage will be paid off in two years in the context of a conversation about retirement plans , but I’ve only had occasion to tell one person the specifics of the deed - and that was to explain the difference between a “tenancy by the entireties” and “joint tenants with the right of survivorship”.
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There’s been no mention of a will by the boyfriend. Perhaps if he was young and was killed, as opposed to having a lingering illness, there was none. But it should be considered; there could be a provision of interest in this case.

And the attorney will check the boyfriend’s estate disposition, which also might shed some useful legal light.

Not in some states. Usually one cannot make an oral contract on real estate.

But perhaps with an unmarketable title. The attorney should be able to do a quiet title for a few hundred bucks.