Ask RedWeek / August, 2017

How do I get an ex-spouse off the title of my timeshare?

I am an owner at Shell Vacations in Anaheim, and I have enjoyed it. But I also have a problem that is driving me crazy. In 2001, at my husband's urging, I bought the timeshare with my own money. We used it for awhile, then the relationship fell apart and we divorced. I have been trying to get my ex-spouse off the title now for 16 years. My former husband has disappeared and avoids me, so I may never be able to serve him with legal papers to surrender his share of the title. Do I have to wait until he dies? Please help. I am desperate. Thanks, Jane

This is an unsettling but all too common story among longtime owners who, at some point, start investigating how to sell or just get rid of their timeshare. This is when people may discover, years after the fact, that they must clear up the legal title to transfer an interval to a third party (or even surrender it back to a developer). To address Jane's questions, RedWeek contacted timeshare attorneys and title companies that are familiar with the technical, and often painstaking, process of clearing title on a timeshare. During our research, we also discovered that title problems are so prevalent that they have spawned an entire cottage industry of companies dedicated to solving timeshare title problems. A special thanks to Orlando attorney Joseph Seagle and title specialist Dave Heine.

To sell or transfer a timeshare, you must have a clear title. Here are some of the steps you can take to clear your timeshare's title.

Contact Your Timeshare Company

First, contact your timeshare company or HOA and ask for help. They will usually try to help owners in distress. Jane did just that. She called her timeshare company — Shell Vacations Club (now Wyndham) — and they sent her legal forms to fill out and notarize, including one where the ex-husband would sign off all rights to the timeshare. But Jane could not locate her ex and, worse, eventually concluded that he was deliberately avoiding service of the legal papers. She is not the first timeshare owner to run into roadblocks on clearing title when dealing with an ex-spouse or, in some cases, heirs who might be in line to inherit the ex's share of the timeshare.

Contact a Lawyer

Contact an attorney familiar with title laws in the state where you bought your timeshare. As an alternative, contact any one of several realtors who are members of the Licensed Timeshare Resale Brokers Association (LTRBA). They can provide referrals to professionals who handle title-and-legal issues, provide information about possible resale values for your interval, and list your timeshare for sale. (We also urge subscribers to use RedWeek's online tools to determine resale value and list properties for sale or rent. RedWeek also provides online customer service for subscribers).

The downside to hiring an attorney to clean up title is that the legal process — and time — could cost more than your maintenance fees. First, title rules vary state by state, so make sure you consult an attorney familiar with the title laws in the state where you bought your timeshare. In Jane's case, the attorney could file a lawsuit against the long-lost husband to partition the timeshare (giving each a 50 percent ownership). That would require serving him personally with the lawsuit, or filing service by publication in a legal newspaper. Once served, the ex-husband would have time to answer the lawsuit. If he doesn't, Jane can get a default judgment. The court would then order the property sold and split the proceeds (if any) to Jane and her ex. If the former husband still cannot be found, his share of the proceeds would go to the state's general fund, not Jane. The new timeshare deed, with clear title, would go 100 percent to the buyer. As our legal expert advised, 'it's not easy, fast or cheap and will require at least some court action to clear title."

When All Else Fails: Surrender

The easiest and least expensive way to clean up title is to give up or surrender your timeshare to your HOA and walk away. Just stop paying maintenance fees. While you will lose all membership privileges, you'll save maintenance fees immediately. The HOA will then take over the task of clearing title by foreclosing on your interval. If you communicate openly with the HOA about your issues, they will typically work with you. Most won't even ding your credit score for defaulting on a timeshare debt (of maintenance fees). At a future date, the HOA will resell the unit or keep it as an HOA unit and try to rent it as often as possible. Unfortunately, if you have a mortgage, you'll still owe the bank for the remainder of your balance. There is no "walk-away" provision to get rid of timeshare mortgages. This is one area where Jane is in good shape, since her timeshare is paid off.

About the author

This answer was provided by RedWeek's Chief Correspondent, Jeff Weir. Jeff is a California-based journalist who has covered California, Congress, and the White House. He also has roots in Silicon Valley, where he directed public relations and marketing programs for high-tech companies. He is also a timeshare owner and member of RedWeek.com.

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    3 Comments

  • Avatar for juliek382
    juliek382
    Aug 08, 2017 (2 months ago) • Last edit by on Aug 08, 2017 12:35 PM.

    WOW sounds very familiar. We had a similar case. We were to inherit the thing after death and find out that the timeshare went to our step mother. In the very small print on the deed it read, upon death the surviving spouse takes full ownership. They were estranged physically, but not divorced. We got el zippo from a property our father wanted his children to inherit. GLAD it did not work out now. Washed our hands of this ELEPHANT timeshare nightmare. Looking back it was the biggest blessing not having to deal with this thing.

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