“This is not my ideal living situation”: My husband and I live in his mother’s house. She will leave it to him when she dies. Am I entitled to this house?

Dear Quentin,

I have lived with my husband’s family for 10 years. We’ve been married for almost nine years. The house belongs to my mother-in-law. She held the house in trust for my husband at the time of her death. She has named my only son as a second in case anything happens to my husband, her only child.

What right, if any, do I have to the house at the time of my mother-in-law’s death? If my husband is not willing to put me on the house deed what will I do if he gets sick and my son is a minor? If my husband is not willing to put me on the deed, how am I ever going to put money into the house for modernization etc.?

It’s not wise to put money in a house that’s not in my name. He will be on his own. I’ve told my husband that I don’t think that’s right and that these aren’t my ideal circumstances. I want to be in control of what’s going on at home with my husband. When that point comes up and he becomes the owner, am I entitled to the house?

He suggested we buy his mother’s house or we buy our own. I live in upstate New York. Please help!

wife & daughter in law

Dear Lady,

If your husband is to inherit this house from his mother, then there is no point in buying it. But if it would put your mind at ease, depending on your finances, you could buy a house together. If your husband inherits this house, it will be his alone unless he chooses to put your name on the deed.

Inheritance does not count as marital/joint property, even if you inherit during your marriage. Your husband could leave you his home in his will. If he died in upstate New York without a will, you would inherit the first $50,000 of his estate plus 50% of the balance; the rest would go to your son.

There are other ways this ownership could blend: if you’ve brought in significant improvements that increase the value of the home, for example. “Transmutation is a change of property status from separated to conjugal”, per this blog by Bikel, Rosenthal & Schanfield.

“In New York, transmutation can occur when one spouse takes separate property money and deposits it into a joint account with the other spouse, who has survivorship rights with the account,” the law firm adds. “In this way, the monies morph and become a joint marital property.”

The good news is that you have many options and your man is open to exploring them. It seems fairer to your husband to buy a house together. If your marriage failed and you were the one who inherited the house, you might be lucky to have kept it as separate property. But I understand that you are the one enrolling – not him.

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Brian Lowry

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