my wife and her sister are on deed to our home. my wife died what happens.

I live in Michigan and my sister in law wants to sell the home.

Asked on June 5, 2017 under Real Estate Law, Michigan


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 3 years ago | Contributor

It depends on:
1) Who else was on the deed: were you on it, too, or only your wife and sister-in-law? 
2) How was the property jointly owned: as tenants-in-common, or as joint tenants?
Here are the scenarios:
a) Your wife and sister-in-law were the only ones on the deed as joint tenants: when your wife died, your sister in law became the sole owner and can do whatever she wants (when a joint tenant dies, the surviving joint tenant[s] get her share or interest). She can put it on the market right away.
b) Your wife and sister-in-law were the only ones on the deed as tenants in common. In that case, you will likely inherit your wife's interest in the property, etiher under a will (assuming it was left to you, not someone else) or, if no will, under the rules for "intestate succession" (who gets what when there is no will), which generally leaves the property to the surviving spouse. In this case, you will end up co-owning with your sister-in-law. She could not unilaterally sell it if you don't want to, since you'd both be 50-50 owners and either could block the other; but when the owners of a property are deadlocked as to what to do with it, one of the owners (the one who wants to sell; e.g. your sister-in-law) could bring a lawsuit for "partition" and seek a court order requiring the sale of the property and the distribution among the owners of the proceeds. She will eventually get this order if she seeks one, but it will take time and in the meantime, you may be able to negotiate to buy her out at favorable terms.
If you were also on the deed, then under joint tenancy, you and the other surviving joint tenant (your sister in law) will end up 50-50 owners, and it will be like scenario b) above. If you were also on the deed but everyone was tenants-in-common, then you will likely end up a 2/3 owner (your 1/3 plus the 1/3 you will likely get from your wife) and will have a greater say over what happens, and more leverage to buy your sister-in-law out.

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