Question: My father and mother lived in their Glendale, Arizona home for more than thirty years. Two years ago my father moved out of their Glendale home to live with his girlfriend. Last month my father died of a heart attack. In attempting to organize the paperwork of my father’s estate, my mother and I discovered a quit claim deed recorded two years ago transferring the Glendale home from my father to his girlfriend. Although the Glendale home was owned by my father and mother with a joint tenancy with right of survivorship deed, the title company now says that this recorded quit claim deed legally transferred one-half of the Glendale home to my father’s girlfriend. My father’s girlfriend said yesterday that she wants $25,000 to quit claim my father’s one-half interest back to my mother. My mother is very upset, and refuses to even discuss paying $25,000 to my father’s girlfriend. Did my father’s girlfriend get a one-half interest in the Glendale home, even though my mother had no knowledge that my father had signed the quit claim deed to his girlfriend?
Answer: Yes. If real estate is held as joint tenants with right of survivorship, either joint tenant can transfer their interest in that real estate to a third party without the knowledge of the other joint tenant. The real estate thereafter will be owned 50/50 as tenants-in-common by the third party and the other joint tenants. Therefore, because your father’s girlfriend and your mother now own the Glendale home 50/50 as tenants-in-common, your mother unfortunately may have to negotiate with your father’s girlfriend.
Note: If your father and mother had held title to the Glendale home as community property with right of survivorship, the father’s quit claim deed to his girlfriend would be ineffective because both spouses must sign to convey any community property interest in a home or other real estate. Ownership by a husband and wife of a home or other real estate as community property with right of survivorship (which also has a tax advantage over joint tenants with right of survivorship) did not become Arizona law until 1997. A.R.S § 33-431. Spouses who own a home or other real estate should check their deed to see that their deed says community property with right of survivorship, and not joint tenants with right of survivorship. If owned as joint tenants with right of survivorship, the cost is minimal to transfer ownership by a new deed to community property with right of survivorship. Finally, any two or more people can own real estate as joint tenants with right of survivorship, but only a husband and wife can own real estate as community property with right of survivorship.