Many parents believe that adding underage offspring to the title of their house will make it easier to settle their estate after they die. Nice thought; lousy idea.
Q. I am a single mother with an 8-year-old son. Would it make sense to put him on the title to my house so that we would own the property as joint tenants? By doing so, I'm thinking he would automatically inherit my half of the house if I died, and his deadbeat dad wouldn't get anything.
A. Your heart may be in the right place, but listing your young son as a joint tenant on the title to your home is a really bad idea.
Although many states permit a minor to hold title as a joint tenant, most also prohibit a child from conveying that title to someone else. So if you named your 8-year-old as a joint tenant and then decided to sell or refinance before he reaches legal age, you might well have to go through the costly and time-consuming task of getting a court-approved guardian to protect his interest in the house. You probably couldn't act as your child's own guardian because your status as a co-owner would create a conflict of interest.
You obviously need to draw up a will that names a guardian for your son, if you haven't already done so. It might even make sense to form a living trust, naming your son as the beneficiary and an adult as your successor trustee to oversee your assets if you die before your boy turns legal age. Consult both a lawyer and an estate planner for details.
Q. I am buying my first house, and followed your advice to have the property reviewed by a professional home inspector. Her report said the house is "physically sound," but states that she "does not warrant that the property is free of termites or other pests" and that I should hire a separate inspector to look for such problems. Isn't looking for damage caused by pests part of her job?
A. No. General home inspectors, like the one you hired, do not look for damage caused by termites or other wood-destroying agents. The job is usually left to a separate, licensed pest-control specialist.
Damage caused by termites and the like can be extremely hard to spot, but expensive to repair. That's why many lenders will not issue a loan on a home until it has been examined by a qualified expert.
Such an inspection typically costs between $50 and $90, according to the Federal Reserve Board, but can run much higher based on the size of the property or other factors. It's money well-spent if it helps you to avoid purchasing a property with a serious pest problem.
Q. My husband and I are big fans of the TV show "Bait Car," where the cops use special cars rigged with hidden cameras and other electronic devices to lure in and then capture auto thieves. But is it true that some cities are now using "bait houses" to catch burglars?
A. Yes, it's true. Law-enforcement officials started a bait-house program in Dallas about a year ago, and a handful of cities and towns across the nation are thinking of following suit.
The Texas program is based largely on a similar plan launched in high-crime areas of the United Kingdom six years ago, and a more recent initiative approved to protect small street-front business owners from theft or robberies in Los Angeles. The Dallas homes -- often under construction or being remodeled, which makes them more susceptible to crime -- are outfitted with tiny hidden cameras to capture the bad guys on video when they first break in and then start looting the place.
Appliances and electronic items that thieves like most, including microwaves and computers that are easy to sell, often are implanted with a secret global positioning system device that can pinpoint their location the moment that they are moved. That allows the police or sheriffs to find the burglar later if they can't get to the house while the crime is still in progress, or at least find the pawnshop, "fence" or other buyer of the homeowners' stolen possessions.
Real estate trivia: October is the best month for homeowners to purchase patio furniture, barbecues and vacuums, because retailers are offering discounts of up to 50 percent to clear out the last of their summer inventory, researchers say. But wait until the day after Thanksgiving, commonly called Black Friday, to get the deepest discounts on TVs, laptops and other electronic items for your home.
• For the booklet "Straight Talk About Living Trusts," send $4 and a self-addressed, stamped envelope to David Myers/Trust, P.O. Box 4405, Culver City, CA 90231-4405.
© 2013, Cowles Syndicate Inc.