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The Moneyist: I invested $25,000 in repairs in my girlfriend’s house, and contribute 50% of the mortgage — but I’m not on the deed. What can I do?

Dear Quentin,

I am 66 years old and moved in with my girlfriend, who owns her own house. I invested $25,000 in repairs, and have made half the mortgage payments for the last five years. 

My name is on the refinanced mortgage, but not on the title deed. 

What happens upon her death if there is no will? She has three children from her deceased husband. I believe the house should go to me. What should I do?

The Partner

Dear Partner,

If your name is on the mortgage but not on the deed of the property, you are technically a co-signer on the mortgage — and you are responsible for paying the loan — but you are not a co-owner of the property. It’s an awkward place to be in, especially given the amount of money you have already spent on repairs. Don’t spend $25,000 on a house that you don’t own. 

Assuming she is agreeable to having you on the mortgage, it would be more beneficial from a tax perspective to put you on the deed. She could use a quitclaim deed. These are sometimes mistakenly referred to as “quick claim” deeds, probably because of their convenience. They were designed to make the transfer of property both seamless and convenient.

They are typically used as gifts. “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.”

However, you don’t say (a) how much the house is worth, (b) how long she has owned the house and (c) how much you both put down as a down payment. Paying half the mortgage for five years does not necessarily mean you are entitled to 50% ownership, even if you believe that to be fair. As far as renovations are concerned, you have been painted into a corner. 

Yours is not the first letter I have received with the problem of one person on the mortgage, the other on the deed. This reader wrote that her husband claimed that he was afraid she would divorce him if he put her name on the deed of the home he purchased before they were married. (They had been married for three decades, so this was something that had plagued their married life.) 

This woman had the opposite problem, writing to say that her estranged husband was on the deed but not on the mortgage, and — this is probably the least surprising part of this story — she had been the one shouldering the responsibility of paying mortgage all these years. In her recounting, it appears that she was tricked into that particular arrangement.

Given that you are not married, and you do not have an ownership interest in the house, whether or not you are put on the deed is now left up to your partner. Why are you on the mortgage, but not on the deed? Did you knowingly agree to this? If so, why? And did your girlfriend know what she was doing? If so, you are relying on her goodwill to add you.

Check out the Moneyist private Facebook group, where we look for answers to life’s thorniest money issues. Readers write in to me with all sorts of dilemmas. Post your questions, tell me what you want to know more about, or weigh in on the latest Moneyist columns.

The Moneyist regrets he cannot reply to questions individually.

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