Real Estate FAQs
There are a variety of ways that one can hold title to property:
Sole Ownership: owned entirely by one person. Words in the deed such as “Bill, a single man” establish title as sole ownership.
Tenants in Common: a form of co-ownership where property is owned by two or more persons at the same time. The proportionate interests and right to possess the property between the tenants in common need not be equal. Upon death, the decedent’s interest passes to his or her heirs named in the will who then become new tenants in common with the other tenants in common. Words in the deed such as “Bill, John and Mary as tenants in common” establish tenancy in common.
Joint Tenancy: a form of co-ownership where property is owned by two or more persons at the same time in equal shares. Each joint owner has an undivided right to possess the whole property and a proportionate right of equal ownership interest. When one joint tenant dies, his/her interest automatically passes on to the surviving joint tenant(s). Words in the deed such as “Bill and Mary, as joint tenants with right of survivorship” establish title in joint tenancy.
Tenancy by the Entirety: a special form of joint tenancy when the joint tenants are husband and wife — with each owning one-half. Neither spouse can sell the property without the consent of the other. Words in the deed such as “Bill and Mary, husband and wife as tenancy in the entirety” establish title in tenancy by the entireties.
Trusts: While not technically a form of ownership, you may own real property through your Living Trust. Upon your passing, your interest would pass to successor trustees and/or beneficiaries you have designated in your trust.
When you purchase real property, you receive a written document called “the deed” which transfers the ownership of the property from the buyer to you as the purchaser. The deed gives you formal title in exchange usually for a specified amount of money. The transfer of interest in real property is not complete until the deed is delivered to you. The deed should be recorded immediately with the county clerk in the county where the property is located. By recording the deed, you give notice to all future potential buyers of that property that you now have an ownership interest in that particular piece of real property. Recording also tracks the chronological chain of ownership from a series of buyers and sellers. Before you purchase real property, a search is conducted at the county clerk’s recording office to confirm that the seller (as well as all previous sellers) has legal title to the property in question. Title insurance typically performs this function to determine whether any defects occurred in prior conveyances and transfers. If so, such defects may then be pointed out and excluded from their coverage.
Mortgage interest deduction: The major advantage to owning real property comes from the deductibility of the interest of a home mortgage or a home equity loan. In order to qualify for an income tax deduction, the loan must be for your home or a vacation home that is not rented to others. The deduction must be taken as an itemized deduction in Schedule A of your federal tax return.
Property tax deduction: real estate taxes paid to any state or local governments are also deductible on your federal return. Generally, the taxes must be based on the assessed value of the real property and must be charged uniformly against all property under the jurisdiction of the taxing authority.
Capital gains exemption: Once you sell your residence, you may exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for married couples) from any realized capital gains. In order to qualify, you must meet certain requirements: among other things, you must have lived in that home for at least two of the five years prior to the sale, and not have excluded gain from the sale of another home two years prior to the sale.
A quitclaim deed transfers or “releases” to the person acquiring the property whatever present interest the grantor has in that property. A quitclaim deed carries with it no express or implied covenants or guarantees. Therefore, if the grantor has no interest in the property, a quitclaim deed conveys nothing.
While sharing title to property may avoid probate after your death, naming “joint tenants” may have a number of adverse consequences. In effect, adding a joint tenant to your home deed means that you have now gifted a portion of that property to those named. And when you make gifts in excess of $14,000 in value within a calendar year to someone other than a spouse, the IRS requires you to file a gift tax return, and in some cases pay gift taxes. When gifting an interest in your home to anyone, you also are endangering your own financial security. If your new co-owners have creditors or are involved in a divorce, your assets will be at risk. Furthermore, such a transfer may jeopardize certain property tax and other exemptions you enjoy as a senior, veteran, or homesteader.
A better idea is to create a Living Trust and name your children as beneficiaries of the Trust after you die. This has the advantage of avoiding probate, yet it gives you total control of your house prior to transferring ownership. You can also change beneficiaries if you so desire, and provide for the circumstance if one child predeceases you.