Bookay: Why you have Massachusetts agents answering a NJ question, I'll never understand. I'm a property owner in 08610 myself!
Having griped about that, I must say that Greer is one smart lady and has nailed the question. There are so many ways that this could have been set up. I have never heard of "primary and secondary" ownership of real estate. It's a new one on me and I've owned property and inherited property since 1960! That's not to say that it is not something that is done in New Jersey, just that it isn't the most common thing you see.
I understand that in auto sales, you can have a "secondary" position in the debt and that you pay only after the primary debtor fails to do so. This is not the case with mortgages. If you are on the mortgage, you owe and the mortgage company can go after you first, if you are easier to find and deal with.
In real estate, as far as I know, there are three forms of ownership beyond single ownership. Common ownership means you can sell your share and give it to heirs. Joint ownership usually comes with the survivor(s) getting the property upon the death of the first owner to die. (Thatâ€™s what your father and his girlfriend might have had.) Finally there is entirety ownership, where the surviving spouse gets the entire property at the death of their mate. In practical terms joint and entirety work the same way, the survivor gets the property.
So, with those forms in mind, your description is puzzling. You need an attorney to advise you as to what the true nature of the situation is. My suspicion is that you may be out in the cold.
If a "life estate" to the property was set up in the womanâ€™s interest, upon her death it would go to the "remainder man." That person is usually named in the deed that sets up the life estate. This is another possibility but Realtors are not allowed to practice law and this situation looks to me to be one where investigation for documents, interpretation of them and then action to clear the title are all involved. These are all "lawyer time" actions.
Best of luck with it.