Thinking about adding somebody to your deed? Here are a few things to think about.

The St. Ambrose Legal Services Department often receives calls from Marylanders who have been advised to add a relative’s name to the deed for their house. It is a common misconception that this is the only way to ensure that a house passes to a family member after the owner’s death. In fact, there are several more ways to ensure that your loved ones receive your home after you pass away.

At St. Ambrose, we help clients prepare three different documents that help secure clients’ property for the next generation. Take a look below for an explanation of these documents and their benefits and risks.

1. Will

The simplest way to ensure that your house transfers to your family members after you die is to write a will. The will specifies who is to receive your home after you pass away – it can be one person or multiple people.

Benefits: Writing a will is a quick, easy way to make your estate plans legally binding. Will appointments at St. Ambrose are free and they typically take less than an hour. Wills also cover other property like your physical possessions (cars, clothing, jewelry, etc.) and money in your bank accounts.

Drawbacks: After you pass away, somebody will have to open an estate on your behalf. An estate is the legal entity that represents a person who has passed away. Your family members may have to pay money to open your estate after you pass away. Additionally, if you die owing debt (credit card debt, medical debt, etc.), those creditors may file a claim into your estate. All claimed debts that are allowed by the Orphans’ Court must be settled before any assets, like your house, can be given to the person or people that you designated to receive them in your will.

2. Joint Tenancy Deed

You can also have a deed prepared where you add one or more people as “joint tenants with the right of survivorship.” This means that once the deed is filed, you become a co-owner of the property along with whoever else you have added.

Benefits: This ensures that whoever you have added to the deed remains an owner of the property after you have passed away. There is no need for anybody to open an estate for your co-owners to retain ownership of the property. If you pass away owing any debts, your creditors will not be able to place a new lien on your property after you die.

Drawbacks: You lose a certain amount of control over your property by filing this kind of deed. If you want to sell the property and a co-owner does not agree, you will not be able to sell without filing a lawsuit. Also, if a co-owner gets sued and loses, a lien could be placed on your property and you could be forced to sell it even if you are alive and living in the property. You will also have to pay fees to your local jurisdiction to record a deed.

3. Life Estate Deed with Powers

This is a special kind of deed that allows you to keep your ownership of the property during your lifetime and specifies a person or people who automatically receive the property after you pass away – these people are called “remainders.”

Benefits: After filing a life estate deed with powers, you keep full ownership of your property during your lifetime. This means that you can sell it, take out a loan on it, refinance a loan on it, or anything else that you were already able to do with the property. If you still own the property at the time you pass away, your remainder(s) automatically take title to the property after you die. There is no need to open an estate for the property to transfer ownership. If you pass away owing any debts, your creditors will not be able to place a new lien on your property after you die.

Drawbacks: You will have to pay fees to your local jurisdiction to record a life estate deed. Also, if you want to change who is the remainder on the deed, you will have to have a new deed prepared and recorded. If your remainder dies before you do and you do not change the life estate deed before you die, then your property will go to your remainder’s legal heirs.

If you would like any of these documents prepared for you or have any other estate planning questions, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8500 extension 209.

What happens when you can’t pay the mortgage? A forbearance explainer

During the current public health emergency, many homeowners are facing difficulties making their regular mortgage payments on time. Here are some things to consider when it comes to forbearance agreements and managing your mortgage in general:

If you can afford it, try to continue making your mortgage payments.

There are a lot of mixed messages being shared about whether or not you should continue making housing payments. The truth is, the best thing for your financial future is to continue to pay your obligations if you have the means to do so. While it is true that some protections are in place for consumers during the pandemic, it is safer (and easier) to continue meeting your obligations until circumstances change. If you have to make tough choices, remember to take care of urgent needs (food, medicine, shelter) first whenever possible.

If you cannot afford to make your payment, contact your mortgage company ASAP.

Public assistance programs in the United States almost always require the recipient to request them. Assistance from your mortgage company is no different. The sooner you contact the mortgage company, the sooner you will be able to begin the process of applying for help. Some servicers are currently only requiring a few button presses to be entered into temporary assistance programs. Even then, make sure you keep a record of what day and time you applied. Also keep track of any information you may have provided to your mortgage company, in case questions arise at a later date.

What is a Forbearance Agreement?

With a forbearance, you and your mortgage company agree to temporarily suspend or reduce your monthly mortgage payments for a specific period of time. This option lets you deal with your short-term financial problems by giving you time to get back on your feet and bring your mortgage current.

If your mortgage company indicates that you are approved for a Forbearance Agreement, try getting it in writing.

When you are approved for a forbearance, try to get a in writing (or via email), if possible. If getting it in writing isn’t possible, record the time and date of the approval, as well as the name of the person you spoke with (if available). A Forbearance Agreement is NOT necessarily the mortgage company allowing you to “skip” payments, it is an agreement to allow you to make those payments at a later date in some form or fashion.

After the Forbearance Agreement ends, you may need to submit more information.

Some mortgages will allow the missed payments to simply be added to the end of the loan. Others may require you to apply for a loan modification once the forbearance period is over. Even if you “heard” from someone (including a mortgage company employee) that the missed payments will be automatically added on to your loan, it is best to be prepared in case you need to provide more information in the future. During your forbearance, keep detailed records of your finances (bank statements, tax returns, and paystubs- if you are still being paid) and be sure to open any mail you receive, especially from your mortgage servicer.

If you require assistance with any stage of this process, Housing Counseling Help is available. 

St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center remains open and available to counsel individuals having difficulty paying their mortgage through our Foreclosure Intervention Counseling Program. Our counseling services are free of charge and available to all residents of the state of Maryland who need our assistance. Email us at intake@stambros.org or call us at 410-366-8550 ext. 249.

New video: Three things to know about paying rent during a pandemic: Information for Renters during COVID-19

St. Ambrose Staff Attorney Tim Darby talks about what renters need to know about Maryland’s current eviction laws and what they mean and how to have effective conversations with landlords.

As always, if you are having trouble dealing with your landlord, or have any other questions regarding housing law, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

Legal Services at St. Ambrose copy 2

The COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak has caused a lot of uncertainty for all Marylanders, particularly renters like Tim. If you are struggling to pay your rent in Maryland there are three things that you should know. Watch the video here.

  1. First, open and honest communication with your landlord is very important. Unless your landlord tells you otherwise, you still have an obligation to pay rent during this period of time. If you think you might not have rent money by the due date, get in touch with your landlord and explain what’s going on. They might be able to work with you to establish a payment plan or defer your rent payment to a later date, though it’s important to note that they are not legally obligated to do so. If you do work something out with your landlord, make sure to get it in writing.
  2. Even if you do not pay rent, your landlord can not legally evict you right now. Even before the coronavirus outbreak, landlords could not legally evict tenants without going through the court system and then paying the local sheriff’s office to conduct the eviction. Landlords can NEVER legally evict tenants without the help of the local sheriffs office. The governor of the state of Maryland has issued an order halting all residential evictions for the duration of the State of Emergency. We do not know when this State of Emergency will end. This means that right now, your landlord cannot legally force you out of your home, even if you have not paid rent or if you have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
  3. Lastly: If you do miss a payment, you will still owe that money to your landlord, even though they cannot evict you right now. Our state court system is currently running limited operations, and every county and Baltimore City is handling matters differently. However, once your local district court opens up to rent court hearings, trials may be scheduled for those who have not paid their rent. If you get to this point, you are liable for unpaid rent and also maybe fees and court costs. If you do not have this money by the hearing date, your landlord may be able to begin working with the sheriffs office to schedule an eviction.

The most important thing to know is that your landlord CANNOT force you to leave your rental property during this state of emergency. If you are having trouble dealing with your landlord, or have any other questions regarding housing law, please call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

Foreclosure fears? Ten tips from Staff Attorney Tim Darby, Esq.

Many Marylanders are facing the threat of foreclosure due to loss of income because of the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic. The St. Ambrose Legal Services Department has compiled the following tips for what to do if you having trouble making mortgage payments:

  1. Ask for help from a housing counselor or pro bono attorney as soon as you realize you are in financial trouble. The sooner you ask, the more likely you are to get the necessary support to resolve the problem.
  2. Stay in contact with your mortgage servicer so that they are aware of your situation. Your servicer may offer you a forbearance, meaning that they will suspend your obligation to make monthly payments for a certain period of time. Once that period of time ends, you will resume making your normal monthly payments. If you are upfront and transparent about your financial situation, your bank will better understand your needs and interests.
  3. Open all of your mail, promptly. Don’t assume you already know what’s inside.
  4. Know that the foreclosure process in Maryland takes many months from beginning to end. Many people are frightened when they start receiving mail about a foreclosure action. Take this seriously but know that your lender has to take several steps through the court process before you are legally obligated to leave your home.
  5. Know that because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the court system is not processing any foreclosure cases and the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, our state supreme court, has suspended all evictions.No evictions may legally take place at this time. Once the court system opens back up foreclosure proceedings will resume as normal. You still have an obligation to make mortgage payments unless your servicer tells you otherwise in writing.
  6. Do not pay fees for services to assist you with your financial situation when the service is available for free. Thoroughly investigate anyone who is charging you for financial services and what they are doing for the fees.
  7. Do not take advice from friends, neighbors, or family unless they are trained in financing.
  8. Understand your responsibilities under the debt obligation. A deed of trust is part of a mortgage agreement. A deed is the document that signifies ownership of a piece of real estate.
  9. Know your rights and don’t sign any contracts unless you fully understand the document. You may be offered a forbearance or deferment during this time, but make sure you understand the full implications of this sort of arrangement before agreeing to it.  
  10. Do not think the problem will just go away. If you cannot afford your house, start considering what next steps you will take in order to find a new living space.

The threat of foreclosure can be intimidating, especially in light of the COVID-19 Coronavirus outbreak. However, being informed of your rights and responsibilities can make the process easier. Going through a foreclosure doesn’t mean losing everything. If you remain informed and proactive throughout the process you’ll be able to salvage the maximum amount of your investment. Find help, resolve the problem, and look ahead to life beyond foreclosure.

Call St. Ambrose for free legal advice and foreclosure counseling: 410-366-8550 extension 209.

Navigating Legal Challenges in the Wake of COVID-19

The current COVID-19 pandemic has unleashed a host of uncertainties in nearly every aspect of personal and public life across the state. St. Ambrose Legal Services is here to work with you to achieve clarity and confidence in challenging times. If you or anyone you know is in need of legal services, contact us today: legal@stambros.org.

Here are some of the questions our legal services team is addressing now:

Q: I recently lost my job due to the COVID-19 pandemic. What resources are available to me?

A: You may file for Unemployment Insurance benefits through the Maryland Department of Budget and Management. You can do so online at http://www.mdunemployment.com or via telephone at 1-877-293-4125 or 410-853-1600.

Q: I am afraid that I will be evicted from my house. Can that happen right now?

A: All foreclosure proceedings in Maryland are currently stayed. That means that no foreclosure case will process through the court system until further notice. Additionally, the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland, our state supreme court, has suspended all evictions whether the property is owned with mortgage or rented from a landlord. Even in cases where evictions were previously authorized, Baltimore City and County have suspended evictions from taking place.

Q: Am I getting a check from the government?

A: The federal government recently passed the CARES Act, which will send money directly to millions of Americans. The Internal Revenue Service will use information from your 2018 or 2019 tax return to determine whether you are entitled to direct payment and the amount that you will receive. If your address has changed since filing and you do not have a direct deposit set up, you will need to contact the IRS to inform them. One way to do this is to call the IRS at 800-829-1040 from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.

The Treasury Department recently stated that people receiving Social Security benefits will not need to file a tax return and will automatically receive either a paper check via mail or a direct deposit into a bank account.

If you have not filed taxes for 2018 or 2019 and receive income beyond Social Security benefits, you should file your 2019 taxes as soon as possible.

Q: I cannot afford to make my mortgage payment this month. What should I do?

A: The first thing you should do is contact your mortgage servicer and explain the situation. Your servicer may offer a forbearance, meaning that they will suspend your obligation to make monthly payments for a certain period of time. At the end of a forbearance, you will continue making the same monthly payments as before.

Q: I cannot afford to make my rent payment this month. What should I do?

A: You should contact your landlord and explain what is going on. They may offer to work with you on a payment plan or suspend your obligation to pay rent for a period of time. Your landlord CANNOT legally evict you without utilizing the services of your local Sheriff’s office.

Q: What should I do if I cannot afford to pay my utilities?

A: BGE has suspended all service disconnections and late payment fees until at least May 1 and will be working with customers to establish payment arrangements and identify energy assistance options. For further information, contact BGE at 800-685-0123.

Both Baltimore City and Baltimore County have suspended water shutoffs for failure to pay.

Could I be evicted_

Q: I have not paid my property tax. Can my property still go to tax sale?

A: Yes. The 2020 Baltimore City has been delayed, but may still occur this year. The 2020 Baltimore County tax sale is scheduled to take place in early May. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO LEAVE YOUR HOME IMMEDIATELY AFTER IT IS SOLD AT TAX SALE. Even after a property is sold at a tax sale, the owner has a right to pay what is owed (possibly along with fees) until at least six months after the tax sale.

Call the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center for more information at 410-366-8550 extension 209.

Q: Can I still vote in the upcoming elections?

A: The Special Congressional District 7 Election (to replace Rep. Elijah Cummings) will be held exclusively by mail. If you live in the District and you are registered to vote, expect to receive a ballot in your mailbox in early April. In order to have your vote counted, if must be filled out and returned, postmarked on or before April 28, 2020.

The 2020 Primary Election will take place on June 2, 2020 from 7:00 am until 8:00 pm. Early voting will be open from Thursday, May 21 to Thursday, May 28.

Please keep up to date with the State Board of Elections as these dates and procedures are subject to change.

Q: What should I do if I need further assistance or receive a document that I do not understand?

A: You should contact the Legal Services Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209.

Q: Will any of this information change?

A: Maybe. This information was compiled in early April and all information is subject to change. Call the Legal Service Department at St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center at 410-366-8550, extension 209 with any questions you may have or to confirm that any of this information is still valid.

The Affordable Care Act in Maryland

Last Thursday, the Supreme Court of the United States upheld the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (referred to as the ACA), President Obama’s signature piece of legislation that intends to expand access to healthcare to the millions of uninsured Americans nationwide. The Supreme Court’s ruling was largely surprising, as many expected that the individual mandate would be declared unconstitutional and thus the law would be struck down. The individual mandate did indeed get declared unconstitutional under the Commerce Clause, but in the end the law was upheld on the basis of the congressional right to impose taxes.

What does this mean for Maryland residents?

For one organization, the upholding of the ACA is a very exciting and beneficial development. The Baltimore-based organization Healthcare for the Homeless, which provides health-related services, education, and advocacy in order to reduce homelessness and its burdens on individuals and communities, supports the court’s recent decision.

“The Court’s decision makes possible the most significant expansion of Medicaid in the program’s history,” said Kevin Lindamood, President and CEO of Health Care for the Homeless. “Of the 9,000 clients seen at our five clinic sites throughout Maryland, 70% lack comprehensive health insurance. New Medicaid eligibility for most individuals earning less than $15,000 a year will substantially improve access to care for vulnerable people. Though the Court’s decision may unfortunately make expansion optional for States, we’re confident in Maryland’s leadership to fully expand the program and are eager to work with State officials to maximize the law’s potential.”

In addition to Lindamood’s assumption that Maryland will take the lead on expanding Medicaid, our state is one of 14 that have begun to implement a defining feature of the legislation. By building a state-run health insurance exchange, which (if run successfully) operates as a marketplace where individuals and small businesses can compare and choose their own insurance plans, Maryland leads the way in expanding the accessibility of healthcare to the uninsured. The states that do not create exchanges that fulfill the government’s stipulations put forth by Health and Human Services are subject to having the government create the state’s exchange. This aspect has received significant pushback, alluded to by Virginia governor and Republican Governor’s Association president Bob McDonnell when he released a statement noting the potential detriment of government action saying that this will “extend the federal government’s reach into the states and will cost the states millions of dollars annually to operate”.

What are your thoughts about the Affordable Care Act, and what does it mean to you? Also- test your knowledge of Healthcare Reform- how much do you know about the ACA?  Take the Health Reform Quiz!

Star-Spangled Sailabration Gives Baltimore Reason To Celebrate

Baltimore hosted the national launch of the Bicentennial Celebration of the War of 1812, which boasted an international parade of more than 40 tall ships and naval vessels. During June 13-19, the Star-Spangled Sailabration included tall ship tours, an air show by the Blue Angels (first Baltimore appearance ever!), and a world premiere symphony performance written by world-renowned composer Philip Glass. For more information about the events that took place, check out the Sailabration schedule of events.

Last Thursday, I headed down to Inner Harbor, enjoying dinner and a tour of the Cuauhtémoc, a 270-foot tall ship from Mexico. It was enormous. The sailors welcomed visitors aboard, posed for pictures, and chatted with curious passersby. The visiting sailors made their presence known around the city- several have been volunteering at Meals on Wheels and many more helped plant a community garden at the Howard Peter Rawlings Conservatory and Botanical Garden at Druid Hill Park. Uniforms of all types were also spotted at Camden Yards.

The weather was wonderful and the mood was friendly, if not enchanting. As the sun went down, strings of white lights run along the ropes flickered on, enhancing the already festive atmosphere. People were happy, at ease, and enjoying themselves. My experience was quite the opposite of what Maryland Representative Pat McDonough described as he warned of dangerous “youth mobs” when he advised tourists and other Maryland residents to stay out of Baltimore City. Just FYI, Mr. McDonough, I had a great time at the Inner Harbor last week.

Hundreds of thousands of visitors were expected to attend the Sailabration events; Baltimore officials are now working to figure out if attendance surpassed one million. Tom Noonan of Visit Baltimore suggested that this event may have even brought Baltimore more money than the Grand Prix.

Sailabration was “probably one of the largest events in the city’s recent history,” said Baltimore City Police Department spokesman Anthony Guglielmi. The success of over the weekend “underscores how Baltimore is prepared to handle these large-scale events,” he continued, highlighting that the four days of Sailabration were “extremely well-managed”.

Check out Baltimore Business Journal’s video of the departure of the tall ships: