Question: I deeded my house to my son and daughter back in the 1980’s.  I live there under a reserved life estate.  My daughter passed away ten years ago, leaving her family behind.  I am wondering who owns my house?

Answer: Do you remember handing your kids a double sized popsicle, when they were young?  You could either break it in half, giving one stick to each child, or have them share the whole treat – of course, my kids would kill each other if they had to share it.   When you deeded the property to your kids, it was similar.  You got to decide the manner of ownership between your family.  Either joint tenancy or tenancy in common.

Think of “joint tenancy” as the whole, unbroken popsicle.  Each child owns the property together, and if one passed away, the whole property goes to the other child.

Think of “tenancy in common” as the popsicle split in half.  When one child passes away, their share is passed on to their estate (not to their sibling).

Unfortunately, your deed was silent as to the manner of title given to your two children.  Thus, they own as “tenants in common.”  Now comes the big question:  did your daughter write a Will?

If so, it will dictate who gets the property.  If not, the ownership passes ½ to her husband and ½ to her kids (your grand-kids).  Either way, your daughter’s estate needs to be probated.  This can be expensive with filing and publication fees alone ranging over $1,000.00.  I suggest starting this probate project now, as it may take many months.

If you could turn back time, and draft your deed again, those two simple words: “joint tenancy” would help in a major way.

Attorney James Haroutunian practices real-estate law, estate planning and probate at 790 Boston Road, Billerica. He gladly invites questions at or by phone at 978-671-0711. His website blog is found at and  

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