Brother seeks advice on inheriting his sister’s home

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Q: My widowed sister owns a modest home in DuPage County, Illinois. She is fully paid off. Her intent is to leave her home to me (she has no children) when she leaves. I am retired and rely on social security benefits and a small pension. I am concerned about what my “costs” would be if I received the house through her will.

Does it make sense to me financially if we are co-owners of the property? We have discussed this and she is committed to doing what makes sense to me. Her goal is to make sure that I can really afford to live in the house after she leaves. Your thoughts?

A: Your sister wants to give you an important gift: a fully paid house. All you would have to do is keep it, pay utilities and property insurance, and pay property taxes. If the house is modest, the taxes are probably also modest.

Homes from time to time require repairs and maintenance. Someone will have to manage the garden, clean the gutters, shovel snow, and repair, repair, or replace things that break, such as light bulbs and kitchen appliances.

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In fact, your sister knows how much all these items cost because she is paying all those bills. If she is willing to give you the house, she is probably willing to discuss how much it will cost to keep the property.

Here’s what we ask ourselves: where do you live now? If you live with your sister and she will leave her property to you when she dies, it shouldn’t be too difficult to talk about the costs.

On the other hand, if you live elsewhere and could continue living elsewhere, your sister’s home could become a profitable asset to be exploited in retirement. Renting the property could lead to income that you could use to support yourself after she leaves.

Even if she wants you to live indoors after she’s gone, it may not make sense to you socially, emotionally, or even physically. Another idea is to sell the property. If you sell it within a year of receiving it, the proceeds should be tax free. This can also help finance a more comfortable retirement.

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You asked a question about co-ownership. There is no reason why you are co-owner of the property today. As we have written many times, it generally makes more sense to inherit real estate than to be given away by someone.

If you are concerned about the cost of inheritance, it may make sense for your sister to create a trust and put the title of the property in the name of the trust. She should then appoint you as the successor beneficiary of the trust. When she dies, the house will automatically pass to you, along with anything else entitled to the trust, such as checking or savings accounts or other assets.

Another option is to create a death transfer tool (TOD), which allows your sister to designate you as the home beneficiary after her death. You should submit this TOD to the Registrar’s Office in the county where the transferring property is located, in this case, DuPage County. This document would also make it possible to avoid succession. Twenty-nine states plus DC allow you to create a TOD (or a beneficiary deed).

Your sister may have already chosen one of these methods for moving home after her death, but if she hasn’t, you may want to address the topic. Talk about her real estate plan and ask for the name of her attorney, tax or accountant, financial planner, and banker, if she has one. Make sure she has appointed you her power of attorney for health care and financial matters, so that you have the right to make decisions for her if, for some reason, she becomes incapable.

At the end of the day, it looks like your sister has invited you to talk about your future after she’s gone. We think you should pick it up, sooner rather than later.

Ilyce Glik is the author of “100 questions every first time home buyer should ask“(Fourth Edition). He is also the CEO of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and reduce financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through his website,

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