Q&A: Wife should get her name on deed

Dear Liz: My daughter, who is a stay-at-home mother of two, recently bought a home with her husband. They have been married seven years. I recently discovered that her name isn’t on the deed to the home. I don’t know why, but it doesn’t sound good to me. What are her potential issues?

Answer: The issues depend on where she lives. Community property states include Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

If your daughter lives in one of those, assets acquired during marriage, including a home, are generally considered community property owned equally by both spouses. Her husband, ideally, should place her on title via a deed to reflect true ownership or place it in a trust to provide for his wife. However, if her husband should die without bequeathing her the property, the home could go to probate proceeding, and the wife would have to provide proof that it was community property to receive all of it, says estate planning attorney Jennifer Sawday of Long Beach.

In other states, different rules apply. Typically assets held in one person’s name are that person’s property. If the husband has a will, he could leave the house to your daughter — or not. Should he die without a will, she could wind up sharing ownership of the house with others, such as children from a previous marriage.

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Q&A: Selling a home you’ve shared with tenants

Dear Liz: I am 53 and own a home in which I live and rent out rooms. Every year I pay my taxes on the rental income and get to deduct depreciation.

How does this affect the taxes I will pay on the home when I sell it? Will I be able to claim the $250,000 exemption? I may live in this home until my death and leave it to my children. How would the rental depreciation affect their stepped-up basis and any taxes they might have to pay?

Answer: Renting rooms is similar to taking the home office deduction in the Internal Revenue Service’s eyes. In both cases, you have to recapture any depreciation, but the business use doesn’t affect your ability to take the home sale exclusion.

The home sale exclusion allows you to exempt from capital gains taxes up to $250,000 of home sale profit. (The exclusion is per owner, so a married couple potentially could exempt up to $500,000.) You’re eligible for the exclusion if you have owned and used your home as your primary residence for at least two years out of the five years before the sale. You will have to pay income taxes on the amount of depreciation you deducted over the years. That depreciation amount is added back as income on your tax return.

If the space you rented out had not been within your living area — if it were a separate apartment or retail space — then different rules would apply.

If you decide to bequeath the home at your death rather than selling it, your heirs won’t have to pay the depreciation recapture tax — or capital gains taxes on any appreciation that took place while you owned it. Instead, the home’s tax basis will be “stepped up” to its current market value.

If they sell it soon after inheriting it, they won’t owe much if any tax on the sale. If they hang on to it before selling, they’ll owe taxes only on the appreciation that took place while they owned it. If they move in and make it their primary residence, they too could qualify for the $250,000-per-person home sale exclusion once they have owned the home, and used it as their primary residence, for at least two of the five years before they sell it.

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