Your home is likely your most valuable asset. According to U.S. Federal Reserve, a home represents 65% of the total wealth held by most Americans — a figure that includes personal savings, investments, and even workplace retirement accounts. For something so valuable, financially and sentimentally, you want to make sure you do what’s necessary to protect and preserve it, especially if you want to pass it on to your family after you die. Your to-do list likely includes getting homeowners' insurance, regular maintenance and repairs, and even purchasing a security system. What may not already be on your list is having a Will. As a homeowner, it is imperative you get your Will done to avoid leaving your loved ones with a “tangled title” situation after you pass, resulting in court and conflict for your family.
A “Tangled title” or “heirs’ property” situation happens when a homeowner dies without a Will, and therefore does not choose who should receive the rights to their home in the event of their passing. In these cases of intestacy (that is, dying without a will), default inheritance laws come into play. We call these default laws the government’s plan for your family. So instead of your plan for how your home is inherited or sold and the money distributed, the government’s plan is what your family will be stuck with.
Problems with the Government's Plan
• Ownership of your home cannot change without going through probate. Who have you put in charge of making sure that happens? Without a Will, the answer is nobody. No probate, no change in ownership, and the future of your home is in limbo.
• You don’t know who will inherit your home or in what proportions. Have you read the government’s plan? Probably not. You have no idea what it says, and your assumptions about it are probably wrong.
• Maybe your children inherit equally. Do they get along? If they don’t, how will they manage the property after you’re gone? Could they even work together to sell your home and divide the proceeds? If they can’t agree, court and conflict will be needed to move things along.
• When the rights to your home are split up among all potential surviving beneficiaries, it dilutes your home’s value. Without singular ownership or a certain plan, no single beneficiary receives a large enough “piece of the pie” to start the probate proceeding and pay inheritance taxes and probate costs to get the title transferred.
• Until someone has control of your home after you die, your family cannot use the home to obtain home equity loans, obtain homeowner’s insurance, or qualify for low-income assistance programs to help maintain the home.
The Consequences of Tangled Titles
This twisted situation leads to many homes with tangled titles falling into disrepair or being abandoned, hurting not only your heirs, but entire communities. Your most valuable asset, your legacy to your family, is wasted.
Consider the tangled title problems in Philadelphia. Philadelphia alone has at least 10,407 tangled titles, affecting 2% of the city’s 509,258 residential properties. The majority of these tangled title properties are also in minority communities. Imagine the visible change it would make if all 10,000+ of these properties were well-kept valuable assets for generations of homeowners rather than abandoned and financially draining to entire families…
Get Your Will Done to Avoid a Tangled Title
The best way to avoid a tangled title is to be proactive – talk to an estate planning attorney and get your Will done. The average cost for a family is $750-1,500, which is far less expensive than if you were to force your family to untangle the title after you pass away. The cost of remedying a tangled title can be significant: about $9,200 for a home valued at the median of $88,800. The emotional toll, however, can’t be calculated – asset dilution can lead to disputes among heirs as they grapple with how to manage or sell the fragmented asset. Legal battles over the disposition of assets can not only diminish the asset’s value, but also create lingering rifts and tension among families already dealing with grief over the loss of a loved one.
Some homeowners may feel that their modest property is not worth estate planning for. They may think that they are not “rich” enough to have a Will, or they may think the government already has a Will for them and that it is good enough. These misconceptions are not only incorrect, but harmful. First, the government does have a Will for you, but you are not going to like it. The default inheritance laws are what put people in these tangled title situations. Why not decide for yourself where your hard-earned money and assets will go? Furthermore, studies show that when people take the step to get their Will done, they are more likely to achieve their goals and leave their beneficiaries with far more than they would have otherwise. In other words, estate planning is the key to improving your situation.
As important as estate planning is to securing your legacy, preserving your hard-earned money, and ensuring the well-being of your loved ones, a large percentage of people still do not get it done. And that percentage of people is even higher for minorities. At Fiffik Law Group, we are committed to helping everyone attain their individual estate planning goals. Our estate planning attorneys are ready to help you and your family protect your assets, guard your legacy, and keep you out of court and conflict. Don’t wait – contact us today to get started.