What is the effect of adding your spouse to your home’s title?

You just got married, and you are thinking about adding your new spouse to the title of your home. After all, you have made a commitment to love and support this person for the rest of your life, and sharing your home with them is an extension of that commitment. California is a community property state, and it is important to understand the legal ramifications of making that choice.

Before you add your new spouse to your home’s title, here are some things you may want to consider:

When you add your spouse to your home’s title, you are giving him or her equal ownership rights and control over your home. What does that mean? Your new spouse can independently decide to take out a loan on your home, remodel it, or even sell it, even though they own only 50 percent of the property. Your new spouse has full control of his or her portion of your home and may even be able to force a sale of the property. You will not be able to control this.

If your new spouse has children from a previous marriage, you may become co-owners with them, should your spouse pre-decease you. This may not be what you want.

When you die, you will only be able to leave a 50 percent interest in your home to the beneficiaries in your will, including your children. The other 50 percent belongs to your spouse.

If your new spouse has creditors, and you add him or her to your home’s title, those creditors now have access to your home as an asset. They may attach a lien to your home and to force you to pay. All too often, individuals enter into marriage without realizing that their new spouse has a bad credit history.

In the event of a divorce, then your spouse will get all of the equity from the time you added him or her to title, until the time of settlement or trial.

What can you do instead?

Draw up a will – If your intention is that your spouse be able to own your home, should you die first, you don’t need to add him or her to your title. Instead, you can indicate your intention to transfer the property fully or partially to your spouse upon your death, in your will.

Get a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement – A prenuptial agreement is intended to protect the assets you have prior to a marriage — it is a contract that describes the distribution of assets and debts, spousal support, community contributions to separate property and other financial matters, in the event of a divorce. A postnuptial agreement is similar to a prenuptial agreement, but it is created after the couple has married. You can indicate in this agreement how you want to treat your home as an asset, spousal debts, and other matters.

Learn more

If you are considering adding your spouse to your home’s title and want to discuss your specific situation, please contact our office for a consultation. If you desire a prenuptial or postnuptial agreement, I can draft an appropriate document.

Attorney Christina Sherman is a Marin County CA family law attorney and Certified Family Law Specialist, specializing in divorce, child custody and support, marital contracts and other family law issues.

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