Q: I am recently divorced. My ex and I still own a house together, listed on the grant deed as community property with rights of survivorship. Is it necessary to change the deed and if so, how should we be listed? Thank you. -- Jim, Lincoln, CA
A: Community property is a form of ownership that is exclusive to married couples and, in California, registered domestic partners. Because you are now divorced, you and your ex can no longer own real estate as community property, even though the property is still titled as such on the grant deed. Yes, you definitely need to execute a new deed. Retitling the property now will save you time and energy (and expense) later.
Your property agreement may specify how you and your ex own the residence following the divorce. If not, you and your ex need to agree upon how you want to hold title going forward. If a lawyer assisted you with the divorce, you can ask that lawyer to prepare the new deed.
In general, you can either own the property as tenants in common or as joint tenants. If you own the property as tenants in common, each of you can dispose of your half of the property as you wish during your lifetime or in your estate planning documents. This means that one of you may be co-owning the property with someone else at some point. As tenants in common you can own unequal interests in the property.
If you own the property as joint tenants, you must own equal interests in the property. Upon the first of your deaths, the other will automatically inherit the decedent's share of the property.
Depending on your relationship with your ex and how you plan to use the property, you may want to consider a Tenancy in Common Agreement that sets forth terms and conditions for the management, upkeep, and use of the property.
Your family law attorney(s), or an experienced real estate or estate planning attorney, can work with you to determine the best form of co-ownership for your particular situation, and prepare any additional agreements or documentation that may be needed.