Legal Questions Answered By Griffin & Murphy, LLP

Photo from PoPville flickr user julianne’s

Griffin & Murphy, LLP, is a boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. concentrating its practice in real estate law (including development, finance, leasing, zoning and condominium conversions), as well as estate planning and probate, civil litigation, and business law. The attorneys of Griffin & Murphy, LLP are licensed to practice law in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Griffin and Murphy, LLP was founded in 1981.

Please send any legal questions relating to real estate, rentals, buildings, renovations or other legal items to princeofpetworth (at) gmail (dot) com, each week one question will be featured. Ed. Note Griffin & Murphy is a PoP advertiser. You can find previous questions featured here.


So the new weekly legal question feature on top of today’s question about DIY wills has me thinking.  I’m in a position I bet others are in:  I bought my house before I was married, so the title is in my name only, but I’d like to add my wife’s name to the title just in case … you know … the Yakuza gets the jump on me or something.  In other words, I want her to own the house outright without having to take it through probate if something happens to me.  I don’t want, however, to pay transfer taxes or new title insurance or any of the things that cost so much at closing to accomplish this.  Is there an easy and cheap way to do this?

Don’t know if this really is something others would be interested in, but I sure would.


Thanks for sending us a relatively easy question this week! We will reciprocate by giving you some good news. We are happy to report that adding your wife to your title should be relatively easy and inexpensive.

Continues after the jump.

Transfers of real estate between husband and wife in the District of Columbia are not subject to either transfer or recordation tax. There will be a modest fee of between $25 and $35 charged by the Recorder of Deeds to record the new deed.

What you need is a deed from yourself as Grantor that conveys the property to yourself and your wife as Grantees, and the deed should provide that you and your wife take title to the property as Tenants by the Entirety (“T/E”). This is a type of tenancy that provides that, upon the death of one spouse, the surviving spouse takes the whole of the property without any further action being required; in other words, title to the whole of the property passes by operation of law to the surviving spouse. Only married persons qualify to hold title to property as T/E. There are special and very strong protections that result from the creation of a T/E tenancy. For instance, the creditor of one spouse may not attach the property owned by both spouses as T/E or attempt to divide the property for purposes of attachment. A T/E tenancy cannot be terminated except by the action of both spouses, their divorce or the death of one of them.

You should go back to the title company that issued your title insurance policy and make sure that conveyance of the title to your property to you and your wife as T/E will not negatively affect your title insurance policy. I doubt that this would be the case, but better to be safe than sorry. The title company can also prepare the necessary deed and the cost for doing so should be modest. The title company can also take care of recording the deed for you.

This response was prepared by Mark G. Griffin and Patrick D. Blake of Griffin & Murphy, LLP. The material contained in this response has been prepared for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice or as a substitute for a consultation with a qualified attorney. Nothing in this response should be considered as either creating an attorney-client relationship between the reader and Griffin & Murphy, LLP or as rendering of legal advice for any specific matter.

5 Comment

  • This answer is not entirely accurate. In DC, a tenancy by the entiriety may be held by persons who are married or by persons who are domestic partners. See DC Code 42-516(c).

  • ^ You are right.

  • If we bought house together and own as “tenants in common” and now we are married, is it worth changing title to “tenancy in entirety?”

  • Is it necessary?

  • There are good reasons why a couple may want to convert to tenants by the entiriety or joint tenants (with rights of survivorship). The principal reason being death of one of the partners. With TBE or JT, the property transfers without going through probate. This avoids a myriad of issues. However, you should discuss your particular situation with your attorney and tax advisor to be sure you are selecting the right structure for your needs.

Comments are closed.