Consumer Law

Add a Spouse's Name to Titled Property & Accounts

People get married at all ages and stages of life, but marrying later is a continuing trend. The older you are, chances are you have more property than at a younger age. So, you and your new spouse need to decide how you'll own your property.

Couples can keep their separate or nonmarital property, or they may choose to add one another's names to titles and accounts, making it marital or community property. You need to take steps to change title to certain types of property, and know the pros and cons of making changes.

Property Types and Title Changes

Assets with separate titles or documentation showing ownership include:

  • Real estate
  • Vehicles
  • Bank accounts
  • Investment accounts

Real Estate Titles

Share real property ownership with your spouse by adding him or her to the property deed. Typically you'll need to complete and file these documents in the recorder's office for the county where your property is located:

  • A quitclaim deed to add your spouse as a co-owner
  • An affidavit stating you're married and want to add your spouse to the deed

It's a good idea to get help from a real estate attorney, who can prepare your documents and review options for the title. An attorney can also advise you on issues related to the title change. For example, changing title could trigger full payment on your mortgage (check for a due-on-sale clause).

Vehicle Titles

You can also add your spouse's name to a vehicle title by filing the name of an additional owner with your state's department of motor vehicles. Just like your mortgage, check with your lender to make sure changing the car title doesn't conflict with your loan terms. Your state may also have a transfer-on-death option, so title transfers to a named person at your death without probate proceedings.

Bank Accounts

Go to your bank to complete forms for adding your spouse as a joint owner to your accounts. As a joint tenant with right of survivorship, your spouse becomes the sole account owner when you die (and vice versa). 

Investment accounts are similar to bank accounts. You should inform the investment company that you would like to add your spouse's name to your accounts as co-owner. The company should provide you with a form to fill out to complete the transfer.

Change of Ownership Effects

Remember that adding your new spouse's name to the titles of your assets changes the ownership of those assets. Talk with your spouse before you make any changes and agree how you'll manage all of your property, whether it's separate or marital.

Don't be afraid to talk about possibilities such as divorce or creditor claims. Know how your property will be divided if there's a divorce, or if transferring title exposes assets to collection claims for your spouse's debts. Managing your expectations and your property helps to keep finances from becoming an issue in your marriage.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If I use profits from the sale of my house to help buy a new marital home, do I lose my "separate property"? 
  • Do I need approval from my condo or co-op board to add my new spouse to my deed?
  • Can I add my spouse to my home and car titles and protect these assets from my spouse's creditors?

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