Imagine that your live-in relationship goes South and the love of your life leaves. Imagine that the two of you have acquired a house together, and titled it jointly “with full rights of survivorship.” Imagine fifteen or twenty years go by, and you’ve made all of the mortgage, tax, maintenance, insurance, and other payments necessary to acquire the house. The house in which you and your former lover had a small – say $20,000 – interest (one acquired with your money) is now free and clear of a mortgage. Property values have increased and the house is now worth $250,000. Is it yours? Can you leave it to your children? Can you sell it free and clear? The answer to all of those questions if the property is in Michigan is “No.”
In a case of first impression, the Michigan Court of Appeals decided Wengel v Wengel, Docket No. 263657 (February 28, 2006) [For Publication] The specific issue involved is whether the doctrine of adverse possession can be extended to apply to real estate owned as a joint tenant with full rights of survivorship.
I've prepared an extensive article on the topic of joint ownership of real property by cohabitants. To read a pdf copy of this entire article, click here.