Q: My dad died several years ago. At the time, my mother didn't do anything to remove my father's name from anything. His name is still on the house, the car and several bank accounts. Mom is getting up there in age, and I think we should take care of this before she gets any older. What needs to be done to clear this up?
A: It is sometimes difficult to remove a loved one's name from assets. I suppose it might have something to do with not wanting to let go. Add in the fact that things might not change all that much if the name isn't removed and there isn't always a big incentive to address these matters. Whatever the reason for not taking the steps necessary to remove a deceased loved one's name from assets, it needs to be done.
How you go about removing a decedent's name depends a lot on the type of asset. The bank accounts should fairly easy. Go to the bank with a death certificate and sit down with a customer service representative. There will likely be one or two hoops to jump through, but it should be fairly straightforward to remove the name of deceased spouse from a jointly owned bank account.
The car and the house are a bit more problematic. Both of those assets have titles that need to changed. It is going to take a little know-how to remove the name.
If spouses own a home jointly, the names on the deed are likely followed by the terms "husband and wife" or perhaps "tenants by the entireties." To remove a decedent's name, you are going to need to record a surviving spouse affidavit. The affidavit will provide all of the information needed to remove the name and clear the title. I have seen situations where a person simply records a death certificate to remove the name, but a death certificate doesn't provide all the information or affirmations to clear the title. A recorded death certificate may satisfy the recorder but not necessarily a title examiner. My suggestion is that you engage an attorney to draft and record a proper surviving spouse affidavit and avoid potential issues.
The vehicle also will require the filing of a transfer of title. You will need to prepare and sign the vehicle title and take it to the bureau of motor vehicles. It's sort of strange, but you will likely be asked to sign the decedent's name and supply a death certificate. The staff at the BMV will help you do it right and make sure that the title has been transferred correctly.
Although it may be several years since your father passed, there is still time to remove his name from the assets. It can even be done after your mother's death but it becomes more complicated and time-consuming (and, yes, potentially more expensive) so don't wait until then.
Opinions are solely the writer's. Christopher W. Yugo is a Crown Point attorney. Address questions to Yugo in care of The Times, 601 W. 45th Ave., Munster, IN, 46321 or to firstname.lastname@example.org. Yugo's information is meant to be general in nature. Specific legal, tax, or insurance questions should be referred to your attorney, accountant or estate-planning specialist.