“Death is inevitable, but dying without an estate plan is not. Estate planning is a must for property owners, no matter how uncomfortable the subject might make you.”
It is not difficult to ensure the smooth transfer of ownership of your property to a spouse, children, or other heirs, as long as you have an estate plan created by an experienced estate planning attorney and know what pitfalls to avoid. Most importantly, says the article “I’m a Financial Planner: Here Are 5 Mistakes You Must Avoid When Transferring Property to Heirs” from GoBankingRates, if you die without a will, your state’s intestate succession or next-of-kin laws will determine who inherits your house if yours was the only name on the deed.
Next-of-kin succession varies by state, but for the most part, the priority order is first the surviving spouse, biological and adopted children, parents, and siblings, followed by grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews, cousins and extended family members.
You’ll want to know how your state treats intestate property to avoid unwanted surprises for your family. For instance, in some states, full siblings are prioritized over half-siblings, while in other states, they are treated equally.
The biggest mistake is dying without a will and an updated deed. In some states, the property will need to go through probate if the surviving heir is not in co-ownership of the house, regardless of what’s stated in the will.
The solution is simple. Add an adult child or the person you intend to be your executor to the property's deed via a warranty or quit claim deed. This prevents the family home from going through probate and seamlessly transfers to the individual you want to handle your estate after you’ve passed. In particular, this should be done once one spouse in a joint-owning couple dies.
There are four general types of property ownership. The legal system treats them all differently. They are property with the right of survivorship, property held in a trust, property subject to a will and property for which the spouse does not have a will.
If two spouses purchase and jointly own a property, the right of survivorship dictates that the surviving spouse automatically receives the decedent’s half and becomes the sole owner. This is the simplest and easiest outcome, since it avoids probate and the need to alter the deed. However, it’s not always the case.
A surviving spouse might need to change their deed if a partner dies and the deed didn’t automatically transfer property after death. If only one spouse was on the deed, they may have to go through probate (if there was a will) to transfer the home into the surviving spouse’s name. The spouse may need to file a survivorship affidavit and a copy of the death certificate to ensure that the title is properly in their name.
Should you transfer property while you’re still living? It may solve some problems but create others. If a primary residence is transferred to an adult child and they sell it not as their primary residence, it could lead to a large capital gains tax bill. However, if the child inherits the property after your death, the heir will enjoy a stepped-up tax basis and avoids capital gains taxation.
Before taking any steps to arrange for the transfer of the home after passing, talk with the person or people to make sure they want it and the responsibilities associated with owning a home. This is especially true if there’s more than one heir with different opinions.
If children don’t get along or are in different financial positions, leaving one property for all of them to manage together could lead to family fights. Talk with them before putting your wishes into your estate plan to avoid unnecessary resentment and, in the worst case, litigation.
Reference: GoBankingRates (July 26, 2023) “I’m a Financial Planner: Here Are 5 Mistakes You Must Avoid When Transferring Property to Heirs”