Here’s who needs a prenuptial agreement to protect real estate assets

DEAR MR. MYERS: I am getting married in October. I bought my own home in 2013, but my fiance rents an apartment. After we get married, will I have to put his name on the title to my home? Also, is a prenuptial agreement necessary?

ANSWER: You have no legal obligation to add your groom’s name to the title of the home that you bought four years ago. You don’t have to ask him to sign a “prenup,” either, though that’s often more an emotional issue rather than a financial one.

You certainly have the legal right to add your sweetheart’s name to the title of ownership of your home, whether it’s before or after the wedding date. Doing so will instantly give him a half-interest in the property, but no legal responsibility to help make the mortgage payments unless his name is added to the original mortgage contract or the house is refinanced in both of your names.

Separately, you probably don’t need a prenuptial agreement – a fancy legal term for a contract that’s signed before the wedding nuptials – to spell out how the couple’s assets would be divided if the marriage ends in divorce.

Most lawyers say that prenups are not needed unless one person is marrying another who makes much less money or has much more debt, or if the other is financially responsible for alimony or child-support payments from a previous relationship.

People who are part of a family-owned business also sometimes insist on a prenuptial agreement, hoping to reduce the chance that a possible divorce won’t jeopardize a family enterprise that may have been around for decades.

Discuss your real estate and other financial concerns with your betrothed, plus a good attorney or financial planner.

REAL ESTATE TRIVIA: Single women now account for 17 percent of all homebuyers in the U.S., the National Association of Realtors says, compared with the 7 percent single men account for. The trade group notes that females tend to be more frugal, and many are single moms who want a stable environment in which to raise their kids.

DEAR MR. MYERS: I recently rented a new apartment and promptly replaced the lock on the front door. The landlord was OK with that, but demanded that I provide him with a duplicate key. Is this legal?

ANSWER: Probably. Most city and county rent laws allow landlords or property managers to insist on obtaining a duplicate key to a tenant’s dwelling.

These laws are designed to protect property owners and renters alike. For example, if there’s a gas leak or a water pipe that bursts inside an apartment but the tenant isn’t home, the duplicate key can be used to allow an emergency repairman to access the unit immediately and fix the problem – thus limiting damage to both the apartment and the renter’s personal possessions.

More important, the duplicate key can be used to allow paramedics, firefighters or the like to quickly access the home and render aid in a life-threatening situation.

The landlord cannot, however, use the key to enter your home without a good reason. In most areas, the law requires at least a 24-hour written notice to enter in non-emergency situations, such as to make an inspection or to replace a worn-out carpet. Contact your local rental board or similar agency for more details.

DEAR MR. MYERS: My husband and I would like to form the type of money-saving living trust that you sometimes write about so our estate could pass quickly to our heirs. But would each of us have to form a separate trust, or would we only need to make one?

ANSWER: Only one would be needed. The two of you would form the singular document as co-trustees, which would allow both of you to control your jointly owned home and other assets while alive.

When one dies, the deceased’s half-interest in the jointly-owned property would automatically pass to the surviving co-trustee. And when the survivor later dies, all the trust’s property would quickly and automatically pass to heirs, instead of going through the costly and time-consuming probate court process.

David W. Myers’ column is distributed by Cowles Syndicate Inc.