Q. My mother passed away in December. I am the executor of the estate. She owned her house outright. I want to buy my brother's share (there are only two of us), and he is agreeable. I have already secured two appraisals.
Can I accomplish this without an attorney? If so, how do I do it? Please outline steps I need to take and websites or offices I should utilize.
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A. To transfer ownership, your brother signs a deed turning his share over to you. The document should then be entered in the public records office of the county where the property is located.
Yes, you could secure a blank deed suitable for your mother's state. For family transfers, people often use quitclaim deeds. In the old days you might look in a large stationary store; today you could search websites.
You could fill it out, have your brother's signature properly notarized, and take it to the public records office of the county where your mother lived. It will be accepted for filing if it's in correct form, including a legal description of the property (not just an address) and accompanied by any required disclosures or reports.
I've held a broker's license, had 10 real estate books published (including two textbooks), served as director of the national Real Estate Educators Association, and taught at a college for more than a dozen years. But I would never buy real estate, even from my brother, without retaining the customary local services.
I don't know who usually handles real estate transfers where you live. But if you've consulted an attorney about settling your mother's estate -- as you should have done -- that's the person to take care of this anyhow. It's perfectly all right to ask ahead of time what the service is likely to cost.
Q. We recently moved and sold our son our $400,000 home on a sales agreement for $150,000. The federal government charges us interest on the amount and it is not tax deductible for either of us. It's going to cost us a lot over the life of the loan just to help him out. Is there something like a gift tax or anything that would help us here? What do you recommend?
A. It's not quite clear, but I'll assume you took back a mortgage from your son. There's no need to be so worried. It doesn't sound as if you'll have any taxable gain, especially if you resided in the house for at least the past two years. Yes, you must declare mortgage interest received as taxable income. If the mortgage is on record, though, your son is entitled to take that interest as a deduction on his own tax return. And you might use a gift tax exemption to even things up however you wished.
Go with your son to a CPA or an enrolled agent for explanations. Be sure to take along all documents relating to the transaction. You'll all feel better about this when you understand how it works.
Q. I live in a very small townhouse complex (fewer than 12 units). One of the unit owners is more than two years in arrears on homeowners' association fees. We pay a management company to administer our insurance, repairs and maintenance expenses. It works with a law firm, which has advised us that the only recourse we have is putting a lien on the owner's property. Our management company feels that would be too expensive for our small association. Do you agree? Are there any other courses of action?
A. I don't understand why your management feels it would be expensive to place a lien against the unit that's in arrears. Surely the process is not all that complicated? It would give your association a legal claim against the unit and pretty much block the owner from any further borrowing against the property. The lien would show up on that owner's credit record.
It would also give your association the right -- if it wished -- to foreclose the loan, forcing a public auction of the unit and possibly ending up owning it. Perhaps that's the part your management feels is too complicated for a small group to undertake?
How else to collect the debt? I'm not a lawyer -- I don't know if seeking a judgment against the owner is appropriate in this situation. If it were, it could be turned over to a collection agency, and possibly end up with the debtor's wages being garnisheed.
• 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.
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