I’m 59 years old, a homeowner, and the mother of three adult children. Three years ago, I asked each child separately, “If I died tomorrow, would you have the time and resources to handle my affairs?” I knew the answer beforehand because only one of my kids was financially set, and a homeowner. My ultimate purpose was transparency.
I did a quitclaim on the deed of my house to my son. I’m still paying the mortgage. Fast forward to today and now my son is struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic anxiety and depression, which he has managed over the years but which are now debilitating. He has stopped communicating with all family members, and he even blocked my number.
He’s obsessed and depressed about a future without a spouse and kids, at a time when his friends, family and coworkers are moving in that direction. I don’t know what to do. Considering his fragile mental state, I’m reluctant to ask him to sign another quitclaim, or do anything else that may push him further away or over the edge.
There was no dispute, no angry feelings or hostility. On the outside he seems OK — he’s a mid-level engineer at a major corporation. What should I do? My two other kids are more financially stable now, so I’d like to add all three to the deed. Have I lost my house?
People sometimes erroneously refer to quitclaim deeds as “quick claim” deeds. It’s an easy mistake to make. They were designed to make the transfer of property both seamless and convenient. The clue is in the name. You “quit” all “claims” to the title of your house. For that reason, they are irreversible.
“Quitclaim deeds arose during times when real-estate transactions needed to be as fast and efficient as possible,” according to attorney Barbara Craig. “The California Gold Rush is the best example of an era in which the quitclaim deed was essential in transferring property rights quickly and with a minimum of documentation.”
Craig outlines these common uses: “When one spouse terminates any interest in the joint marital home after a divorce, giving the other spouse full property rights both quickly and inexpensively; to add a new spouse to a title after marriage; for parents to deed a house to their children; to transfer property into a trust.”
The clue is in the name. Quitclaims are irreversible.
There are many things you could have done here instead of signing your home over to one of your three children. You could have put your house in a trust for your children, or divided it among your three children in your will, while giving yourself a life estate — the legal right to live in your home for the remainder of your life.
You are still responsible for paying off the mortgage on your house, unless you refinanced and transferred the mortgage to your son. This is also a common mistake made in divorce: one party transfers the title deed to another, but fails to do the same with the mortgage, thus remaining responsible for the monthly repayments.
My only question is what did you want in return?
Your intentions were unclear. It appears that you wanted to reward one son — the child you believed was the most successful at that time — with ownership of your home. You deemed him more deserving. My only question: What did you want in return — the appreciation, recognition or love of your family?
This Shakespearean saga may — or may not — be resolved easily. Are they ever? You know your son more than anyone. He may — as you suggest — be unpredictable. You could ask him to reverse the quitclaim, and explain that you would like to put the house in a trust for all of your children to enjoy.
Don’t make it about him. Make it about you. Tell him you acted imprudently, want to make sure each child gets an equal share, regardless where they are in their life, and let him know that you are proud of all he has accomplished, and that the mark of a good life is how you treat others — not the number of people in your household.
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