Q. I divorced in 1994 and retained ownership of the home as part of the settlement. I continue to see my ex-spouse's name on the tax assessment document, even though I have refinanced the mortgage in my name. What does it mean to have his name on the document, especially when I try and sell? What is the best (cost and time) way to have his name removed and change to only my name? And what is the process that I need to follow?
If the home is in your name alone, the information at the tax assessor's office usually will have no impact on your ability to sell the home. Ownership of the home is and will remain in your name. However, the information a government body may have could and frequently does differ from the actual names on title to a home.
In some municipalities, the document that transfers title from a seller to a buyer does not change the information on the local assessor and real estate tax office. We'd like to think that most governments would streamline the system and provide a method to change ownership information and, at the same time, change the name and address information on other documentation relating to the home.
Unfortunately, not all government bodies coordinate the transfer of information when a property changes hands.
The simplest answer to your question is to call the tax assessment office and find out what you need to do to change the name on the form. You may even be able to accomplish the name change online if your real estate tax assessment office has an online portal and allows changes to be done online. Otherwise, you might have to go in person and fill out a form to change the name on the account.
We hope that is all you need to do. You indicated that you've refinanced in the past, which leads us to believe that your ex is off the title to the home. We have to ask, nonetheless, whether your ex had to sign documents in any of your refinances since the divorce. We hope not. But if so, it would tell us that you might have retained the home in the divorce settlement but the paperwork to put the home in your name and your name alone may not have been done.
If your ex's name and your name are both on the assessor's account, it may be that at the time of the divorce, the assessor's office saw your name from before the divorce and after and neglected to remove your ex's name.
Call your local tax assessor's office or look online to see what you need to do to change the name on the account.
One last note: In some states, a transfer of ownership triggers the right to reassess the home for real estate tax purposes. Whether your county would do that or did that when title to the home transferred years ago, we don't know. While we don't usually see assessors reassess a home when one of the spouses is taken off title, more and more municipalities are looking for ways to increase their revenue sources. Transfers of homes on divorce is one way they have found to do that.
We've seen situations where local municipalities are treating the settlement in a divorce of one spouse's half interest in the home as a sale of that interest to the other. That sale allows some cities to collect revenue on the sale and could potentially trigger the reassessment of the home for real estate tax purposes. On the reassessment issue, you'd have to talk to your local tax assessor's office to see how they treat transfers of property upon divorce when those transfers are between the spouses.
Ilyce R. Glink is a syndicated columnist and real estate author. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney.
Source: Divorce - Google News