Does my spouse get the house? John Tetzloff responds

Gavel with house representing probate issues on property

Each year, we hold several financial education workshops throughout the five-state area and have shared with hundreds of Catholics valuable information to help them with their estate plans and charitable giving directions. During the workshops, we usually receive a variety of questions from both young and old. In this edition of Keys to Your Kingdom, we will look at two of the most frequently asked questions.

Question 1: “If I have a will, do my heirs have to go through probate? If so, what is involved with the probate process?”

The purpose of the probate process is to validate and “prove” the last will and testament of the deceased. The first step for the court is to approve and appoint the personal representative named in the will, identify probate assets, and have the personal representative create a public notice of probate hearing to notify creditors of the deceased.

Other responsibilities of the personal representative are to gather assets, communicate to heirs, consult professionals regarding payment of expenses and tax reporting, pay expenses and claims, distribute assets, and file a petition to close the estate.

Some downsides to the probate process include time. Often, this process can take six to 18 months or more, depending on the complexity of the case. The reporting of assets becomes part of the public record at the probate court. For these reasons, people search for other options to transfer assets to heirs, which you can discuss with your local Sales Representative.

Question 2: “Will my spouse automatically inherit our home after I die?”

This is a question a lot of people ask me as we review their assets. Many people assume that a marriage license entitles a surviving spouse to property owned by the deceased spouse. However, assuming is not the same thing as making a plan. I would defer to an old adage I heard around the kitchen table plenty of times growing up: “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

There are a couple of ways to ensure a home transfers to a surviving spouse. First, if a couple buys a home together with both husband and wife listed on the mortgage and/or deed, and one passes away, the surviving spouse has the right to possess the home. Or, if the home is in the name of the wife and not the husband (or vice versa), a transfer on death deed can be drafted and filed with local government agencies so the ownership will pass to the surviving spouse. The advantage of this method is that ownership of the home is determined outside of probate.

The second method is to put a provision in your will that specifically states you want your spouse to inherit the home. The drawback to this method is that probate will be involved in the validation of the will, which could delay the transfer of ownership by several months and will result in a loss of privacy regarding the specifics of your estate.

Of course, this is a simplified explanation of property transfer. Since everyone’s situation is unique, there are tax considerations, local laws, and procedures to consider, potential legal forms to fill out, along with privacy considerations. I encourage everyone to do their homework or consult a financial professional rather than operate on assumptions.

You might also be interested in reading this: Never count on an inheritance

As you can tell, estate planning can be complex and complicated. Therefore, getting easy-to-understand guidance is a great start to any well-thought-out plan. Consider attending one of Catholic United’s Estate Planning workshops where you will receive some simple, timely and valuable information to assist in the process. You can call us at 1-800-568-6670 to request a workshop at your local parish, free of charge and free to attend. May God bless you and your families.

Catholic United Financial does not provide legal or tax advice. You may wish to consult your personal legal or tax advisor with questions about your specific situation.

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