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.

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.

Emergencies don’t have to be financial disasters; start saving now!

You’re laid off at work. Your car needs a new transmission. Your furnace blows. These are all costly emergencies that can’t usually be anticipated and cannot be avoided once they occur. Without a fund set aside just for such emergencies, they can trigger even greater disasters.

Last year, NeighborWorks America released the findings of its third annual consumer finance survey. Chief among them is the alarming fact that nearly a third of adult Americans (29 percent) have no emergency savings. Ninety-one percent of those with incomes of $100,000 reported holding emergency savings, compared to just 30 percent of who earn less than $20,000, 63 percent of those with incomes below $40,000 and 78 percent of those with incomes between $40,000 -$50,000.

There also were significant differences by race and education. The highest percentages of households without any emergency savings at all were reported by African-Americans, adults with lower incomes, and among those with a high school education or less.

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A good rule of thumb is to have enough funds set aside to cover three to six months (some say four to seven) of living expenses. This will give you enough time, for instance, to find a new job or supplement your unemployment benefits until you do. However, anything in the bank is better than nothing — and $500 will get you out of many scrapes that would otherwise put you in the hole. In other words, start small if you have to, but start.

Here are a few tips:

  • Set up a savings account just for this purpose. Separate it from the accounts you tap into on a regular basis so you’re not tempted to dip into your reserves. Do not get access to it via debit card. And if you are issued a checkbook, hide it.
  • Arrange the automatic deposit of a portion of your paycheck into that savings account. Most employers allow direct deposits into multiple accounts. This is the most painless way to create a regular savings habit; you won’t even notice it! But make sure you’ve created a realistic budget. Otherwise, you’ll be pulling money out of savings regularly to pay bills, defeating the purpose.
  • Keep the change.When you get $1 and $5 bills after breaking a $20, drop some in a jar at home. When the jar fills up, move it into your savings account. And if you have money left after paying your bills at the end of a pay period, move some into your emergency fund.
  • Save your tax refund. The average refund is in the thousands, which can give a good boost to your emergency savings. When you file your taxes, consider having your refund directly deposited into your emergency account. Alternatively, adjust your W-4 tax form so that you have less money withheld, and direct the extra into your emergency fund.
  • Cut back on costs.If you’re still falling short on saving, track your spending for a month to find discretionary expenses you don’t really need. Meals out, stops at coffee shops, drinks with friends all add up fast, but you may not realize how much you’re spending in total until you’ve put it on paper.

Remember: Expenses you should be able to anticipate, such as holiday gifts and annual auto insurance payments, are not emergencies! One of the most common problems people have with emergency funds is forgetting to plan for one-time expenses each year.

St. Ambrose is a member of the NeighborWorks America network of nonprofit housing and community-development organizations and we have staff that are trained and certified to offer financial education and coaching to help you follow these guidelines. Our financial coaches can help you realize your goals, encourage you along the way, and hold you accountable on your journey. Emergencies are upsetting enough. Don’t allow them to turn into financial catastrophes as well. If you’re interested in meeting with a financial coach, call us at 410-366-8550 ext. 235 or check our webpage: https://www.stambros.org/pages/financial-coaching.html

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Leslie and Rosalyn, proud graduates of our “Invest in Your Future” workshop series

“The Most Rewarding Part of My Job”

By: Denitra Braham, Housing Counselor

The most rewarding part of my job is when I assist a person who comes in seemingly hopeless and I help them create a new outlook on their circumstances.
I had the pleasure of assisting an elderly homeowner, Grace*transition from her home and into a senior living facility. When Grace first came in she was insistent about keeping her home, but I knew she couldn’t afford it and she had negative equity, so would not qualify for a reverse mortgage.
I explained to her that it was impossible for her to keep the home, but that she was in no way a failure for no longer being able to make the payments. I told her that she had worked hard her whole life and created a home for her children and herself and now it was time for her to relax and enjoy life stress free. I could tell that she was disappointed, but I encouraged her to take some time to think about our conversation and that I would proceed any way she decided to go.
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Grace called me a few days later and said she mulled over what we discussed and was able to recognize that transitioning to senior housing would be the best move for her. I connected her with several contacts and resources for senior living and helped her complete the paperwork for a deed in lieu.
At first finding senior accommodations seemed bleak, but the deed in lieu was in progress and time was limited. After 5 months of diligent searching, it did not look like Grace would be able to find an apartment in a retirement home in time. I made some calls to her mortgage company and Grace was persistent in her search as well. Then after another month, everything fell into place.
Grace was able to secure an apartment in the senior retirement home she had originally chosen with a rent of $187.She received her deed in lieu with $10,000 for her transition through the Home Affordable Foreclosure Alternatives program (HAFA), and was given an additional 6 months in her home to pack up and move.
She called me and thanked me for sticking in there with her and encouraging her to make the best decision for her situation. This was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.
*name changed

New Workshop Series focuses on Investing in the Future

Through support from MECU, the Foreclosure Prevention department recently initiated a brand new five-week financial education workshop series. The course was designed to be a financial coaching course where participants could learn how to make empowering financial decisions and invest in their future.

On the first night, participants were encouraged to make a short-term goal that they could accomplish by the end of the five week course. These goals spanned from finishing the course to saving more money, and from rebuilding credit to signing a contract on a house. All participants who finished the course felt that even if they didn’t achieve their goal during the five week period, they had made significant progress towards their goals and felt better equipped to make empowering financial decisions.photo 4

The lead financial counselor for the course, Denitra, commented that she really “admired that the participants were so focused.” One thing that she asserted after hosting her first five-week course was that learning how to make better financial decisions is a process, and all participants had unique moments and lessons that led them to a full realization about what could be inhibiting them from reaching their financial goals.

One lesson that seemed to be really influential outlined the impact of your credit score on your ability to get a good rate on a loan. Effective strategies to take control of your credit score and rebuild credit were also discussed. Participants also agreed that discussions about goal setting helped to form new financial habits.

But one of the most effective parts of this workshop setting was the community that participants built among each other. It wasn’t just the lessons that enabled attendees to gain ground towards their financial goals; it was the companionship and support network that participants formed with each other.

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If you’re interested in participating in an upcoming “Invest in Your Future” workshop, contact Antoine Norris at 410-366-8550 x235