Friday, May 23, 2014

Unmarried? Buying a Home Together? Read This!!!

Buying a home means making a number of decisions with your money, investment planning (remember, your home is an investment), and we must consider how to accept title in our new home as part of our estate planning. Generally,  California is a community property state. In California, a 50/50 division of community property between a married couple is strictly mandated by statute, meaning that the focus then shifts to whether particular items are to be classified as community or separate property. If one owned property prior to the marriage, that property can be vested as “Sole and Separate Property,” meaning that it belongs entirely to one party in the marriage.

Typically, in the absence of a Living Trust, married couples in California take title to property as joint tenants or as community property. But what if you are not married? What if you are cohabitating with someone and you decide to buy a house together?

Unmarried couples have many of the same decisions to make as married couples when it comes down to home purchasing. One of the most important is how to take title of the home. This can determine what can happen in the case of a dissolution of the relationship or a death of one of the parties to the home’s purchase. Let’s take a look at the different vestings available to unmarried couples and some of the details involved with each particular vesting.

To be sure, I am not an attorney. The information I provide here is rather basic so for additional details, please consider consulting with a Realtor, a lawyer or an investment adviser who can help you with some estate planning.

Individual vesting: In this case, only one individual of the unmarried couple owns the property and owns 100% of it. The other individual has no ownership involvement or rights. If the owner dies, the surviving member of the couple is out of a home unless the beneficiaries selected by the decedent (dead) owner allow him or her to continue living in the home with a rental agreement. The owner can bequeath the property to their unmarried partner in a will but that opens up a can of inheritance taxes and Legal issues.

Tenants-in-Common: This vesting is most common for investment properties with multiple owners. In the case of unmarried couples, some people like to retain what is theirs or at least have a dividing line to say this part is mine and that is yours. This is particularly acute when one party to the transaction provides a larger portion of the down payment of a new home. Tenants-in-common allows each borrower to delineate their ownership percentage of the home. If two people have equal down payments and will share 50/50 in the mortgage, the percentage could be set at each owning 50%. If the down payments are unequal or one party will be paying a significantly larger portion of the mortgage, the couple must work out who owns what percentage; 40/60? 30/70? Also, in Tenants-in-common each can leave their portion of the home to their own selected heirs. Their ownership does not automatically revert to the surviving tenant or tenants. You can leave your ownership interest to the dog if you want! This creates some sticky situations if the decedent tenant leaves their portion of the home to someone with whom the surviving tenant does not get along.

Joint Tenants: In Joint Tenancy, the owners own 100% of the property together. There is no delineation of who owns what percentage of the home. Joint Tenants must both sign documents when transferring the property or using it as a security for a loan. Joint Tenancy is often written on title documents as “Joint Tenants with right of survivorship,” meaning that when one tenant dies, the other tenant inherits the property and owns 100% of it. That tenant now owns the entire home and has the right to select his or her own beneficiaries for the home in the case of their own death.

Community Property (with right of survivorship): This vesting is intended for married persons or domestic partners. Similar to Joint Tenants, the tenants own 100% together. There is no delineation of ownership percentages. Since all such property is owned equally, both parties must sign all agreements and documents transferring the property or using it as security for a loan. Adding the “with right of survivorship” may add some tax advantages. On the death of an owner, the decedent’s interest ends and the survivor owns all interests in the property.  

Trusts: Unmarried people may also take ownership in the form of a trust. The trust documents will determine each parties’ (trustees) ownership percentage and will determine what takes place upon the death of a trustee. In this case, funds could be left to the surviving trustee or decided in advance who will inherit the ownership. They can also designate who would manage the trust (successor Trustee) in the case both owners perish at the same time.

If you are unmarried and thinking of buying a house, this is a great time to do it. Despite the lack of inventory in some areas, interest rates remain historically low. There is a lot to take into consideration when purchasing a home such as the neighborhood, schools, transportation availability, shopping,  down payments, loan terms, and how you will take ownership; your vesting.

When the time comes to purchase your new home, don’t forget to check your credit union’s mortgage rates. Judging from the volume of home purchase loans we are doing today, our interest rates and loan terms must be very competitive!

Link for additional information:

This link is to the California Land Title Association's website for vesting information.


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