To answer this question, you must understand the basic definitions and differences between property ownership and liability for mortgage debt. These terms are easy to confuse because, very often, the same people who are joint owners are also liable for mortgage debt.
A deed is the document that most typically transfers ownership of real property. Other times, a Last Will and Testament or even court order will convey an ownership interest. Ownership may be conveyed solely to one owner of the property; other times ownership is conveyed to multiple owners, as is often the case when two married people own a home together. A deed means ownership of real property.
Liability: Mortgage Debt
Just because you are a joint owner of a residence doesn’t automatically mean you are also jointly responsible for the mortgage debt. There are occasions where only one owner is liable for the mortgage debt. When one of the property owners is self-employed, for example, the mortgage lender might approve the loan based only on the income of one spouse who has income that’s easily verified by a W-2 statement. If you sign the promissory note (i.e., the mortgage debt), you are responsible for repayment of the debt. If you didn’t sign the note, you generally have no responsibility to pay it unless there is a court order or separation agreement that requires you to pay it. Additionally, even if you did not sign a promissory note, you probably signed a document that allows the mortgage to be a lien on property in which you have an ownership interest.
How Do You Remove Your Name?
Let’s assume the property owners are married and they both signed a promissory note for the mortgage debt. If they sell the residence, the mortgage is satisfied (paid off) and neither spouse’s name remains on the mortgage. If one spouse keeps the residence, the other spouse will typically want his or her name “removed from the mortgage.” For our purposes, that means the spouse keeping the property will refinance the mortgage debt, acquiring a brand new mortgage debt in his or her individual name. When the new mortgage debt becomes effective, the old mortgage debt that was in both names will then be satisfied. If the mortgage debt is already in the sole name of the person who keeps the residence, there would be no need for the mortgage debt to be refinanced.