Dear Quentin,

My sister’s husband passed away in February 2020. My sister’s name is not on the mortgage. Her husband’s ex-wife is on the mortgage. I believe the deed to the house was only in her husband’s name. 

My sister and brother have continued to live in the house and make the first and second mortgage payments. My sister is getting ready to retire, and will be on a fixed income. The balance of the mortgage is approximately $150,000.

The house is worth at least $400,000. How can my sister get the mortgage and property deed in her name only? I believe her husband left the house to my sister in his will, but the mortgage is still held by the bank in his ex-wife’s name.  

My sister lives in Tennessee. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

Sister-in-Law

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Dear Sister,

It’s unusual for a man to pass away leaving his ex-wife on the mortgage of the home, while his current wife pays off the balance, and lives in the house. If his former wife is on the mortgage of a property, but not on the deed, she is responsible for paying off the mortgage should it fall into arrears. That could negatively impact his ex-wife’s credit rating, so it’s curious why they would not have rectified that before the divorce. If she is on the deed, she is a co-owner of the house.  

The outcome depends on the terms of your late brother-in-law’s divorce and if he bought this house prior to his first marriage. Tennessee is an equitable distribution state, so property is distributed based on a list of factors — whether the assets are marital or community property, and whether the distribution is fair and equitable, among other factors. Did his ex-wife sign a quitclaim deed, transferring the property to her husband upon their divorce?

Your sister needs to submit the deed to the home, her husband’s death certificate, a copy of his will, a notarized affidavit of death, and a preliminary change of ownership report to the county probate court. She should do this with the help of a lawyer. It’s typically not possible to remove a person from the mortgage without their knowledge as it could impact their credit report. If his ex-wife has no claim on this property and is not listed on the deed, she should be happy to be removed.

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