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posted: 12/3/2011 12:01 AM

On homes and real estate: Property liens can lead to sale of home

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Q. My father inherited three properties from his mother and aunt, who didn't leave any wills. They were both nursing home patients -- and this is where the problem comes in. I'm fairly certain that liens on each of the properties have been placed there by Medicaid or the nursing home.

The whole family has agreed to turn over the properties to me. I've been trying to get information from the nursing home, but since my name doesn't appear on any papers, the people at the home won't give me information. My father is forgetful and doesn't understand business well.

I have no idea if liens or bills exceed the value of the properties. I'd like to repair and rent out the houses. I have the following questions:

• Can Medicaid or the nursing home foreclose, buy or sell the properties without my father or the family being contacted and payment arrangements being made by us first?

• Can a lawyer ascertain all the information and save me frustration?

• Is it OK to rent out the houses even if there are liens?

I've already spent some money on this situation and am waiting for your comments before I proceed any further.

A. When a lien is foreclosed (property sold at public auction to pay off the debt), owners are notified in advance and given a chance to pay up and halt the sale.

• Every county's public records contain full information about liens on local real estate. You can go to the records office and research this yourself. (That's what "public" means.) In many areas, you can search online, or you can have a lawyer's office look up this information for you.

• The owner of real estate has the right to rent it out. Whether there are liens or not makes no difference. If the properties were sold, though, the debts would have to be paid off.

You'd better make sure exactly who owns those properties now, as there were no wills. Consult a lawyer in the county where the real estate is located.

Q. We paid off our home loan in March 2011. We received an email from our mortgage company stating that our mortgage was paid in full. Should we have other documentation, such as a deed, for our records? If so, how do we go about getting one?

A. The lender owes you a document showing the debt has been repaid -- a certificate of satisfaction, or in some states, a reconveyance deed. What's important is that it be filed in the county's public records office in order to show the world the loan has been cleared.

Perhaps that was the email you received -- for all I know, they're sending it that way these days. Or perhaps the lender already filed the necessary document with your county recorder. You can inquire at the public records office. If it's there, that's all that really matters. If it's not there, keep after your lender. This is important, and it's much easier to clear up now than it would be later on.

Q. We have a two-family rental house, which was bought in 1975. If we sell the rental, could we pay off the house we live in to offset or reduce the capital gains tax on the sale?

A. No.

Q. I have a friend who, shortly after her husband passed away about 10 years ago, put her daughter's name on the deeds to her house and lake cabin. The idea was that when my friend died, the daughter would sell everything and split it with her brother. But my friend recently decided she wants to sell the cabin because it's too much work and expense for one person.

My friend would like to know this: Can she do anything to keep her daughter from getting half the proceeds? The daughter already took her mother's boat and sold it without giving her mother a dime. My friend thought she was doing something that would help the kids after she was gone, but now it looks like the daughter may take it all at some point.

Is there anything you think she can do about the mess she's in?

A. I don't think your friend can take back a gift. If she and the daughter are co-owners, the daughter probably is entitled to half the proceeds, less any bills your friend covered that should have been paid by the daughter (half of the property taxes, for instance). But, of course, I don't know all the details. Your friend should certainly take all the documents she has to a lawyer for advice and information.

• Edith Lank will respond to questions sent to her at 240 Hemingway Drive, Rochester, N.Y. 14620 (include a stamped return envelope), or readers may email her through askedith.com.

$PHOTOCREDIT_ON$ 2011, Creators Syndicate Inc.$PHOTOCREDIT_OFF$

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