The Moneyist: ‘These are not my ideal living arrangements’: My husband and I live in his mother’s home. She will leave it to him when she dies. Do I have a claim on this home?

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Dear Quentin,

I have been living in my husband’s family home for the past 10 years. We’ve been married for almost nine years. The house is owned by my mother-in-law. She has the house in trust for my husband at the time of her passing. She has named my only son as the second in the event that something happens to my husband, her only child.

At the time of my mother-in-law‘s death, what right if any do I have to the house? If my husband is unwilling to put me on the deed of the house, what am I going to do if he falls ill and my son is a minor? If my husband is unwilling to put me on the deed, how will I ever put any money into the house to upgrade, etc.?

It’s not wise to put any money into a house that is not in my name. He will be on his own. I told my husband I don’t feel it is right, and these are not my ideal living arrangements. I want to have control of what goes on in the home with my husband. Do I have any claim to the home when that point arises and he becomes owner? 

He has suggested we buy the house from his mom, or we buy our own. I live in New York State. Please help!

Wife & Daughter-in-Law

Dear Wife,

If your husband is due to inherit this house from his mother, it does not make sense to buy it. But if it would give you peace of mind, you could look into buying a home together, depending on your finances. If and when your husband inherits this house, it will be his alone unless he decides to put your name on the deed.

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

There are other ways this property could become commingled: If you contributed significant improvements that increase the value of the home, for example. “Transmutation is a change in the status of property from separate to marital,” per this blog from Bikel, Rosenthal & Schanfield.

“In New York, transmutation can happen when one spouse takes separate property money and deposits it into a joint account with the other spouse that has a right of survivorship attached to the account,” the law firm adds. “By doing this, the funds transmute and become a joint marital asset.”

The good news is you have plenty of options, and your husband is open to exploring them. It seems fairer to your husband to buy a home together. If your marriage went south and you were the one to inherit the home, you might be glad to have kept it as separate property. But I get that you are the one writing in — not him.

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