Can I Add Children’s Names to my House Deed? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

There are many ways that this simple strategy can go very wrong, very quickly. If one of the joint owners is sued, or files for bankruptcy, the home is vulnerable, reports a recent article titled “Naming a child on your deed to avoid probate? Here’s why you may want to reconsider” from St George News.

That is just the beginning.

As any estate planning attorney will tell you, things change when significant assets are involved. Your son or his new wife may decide they do not want you to rent, sell or refinance your home. They have the power as co-owners to stop you from doing anything with the house. All they have to do is refuse to sign the paperwork.

If one child is on the deed and you and your spouse both die, the one child owns the house outright. If there are other siblings, no matter what your will says, the siblings have no legal right of ownership. Your other children will need to go to court and will likely not win.

If all of your children are named as joint tenants with you and your spouse on a deed, only the surviving children will own the home after the death of the surviving spouse. If one of your children predeceases, then the share belonging to any such sibling will disappear, and their children (your grandchildren) will not receive anything.

Naming multiple children as joint owners on a deed also opens you up to more exposure. Even if your children are model citizens, things happen, including divorces, auto accidents, bankruptcies and other unexpected events. Business owners who run into problems can spell disaster for a family-owned asset of any kind. The more siblings with ownership interests in the home, the more risk.

It gets even more complicated if you and a joint tenant child die in a common accident. Determining who died first will determine who is entitled to the home. If you live longer than your child, even by a few minutes, your estate may then own the home.

As is often the case, when people decide they have found a simple solution, complex problems follow. The lawsuits resulting from the situations described above are common, expensive and can cause families to break apart. Your estate planning attorney can explain how an estate plan, with proper ownership, possibly a trust and other legal strategies, will achieve the desired goals without putting the estate and the family’s relationships at risk.

Reference: St George News (Jan. 30, 2022) “Naming a child on your deed to avoid probate? Here’s why you may want to reconsider”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Write a Letter of Instruction for Loved Ones – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

A letter of intent is frequently recommended for parents of disabled children to share information for when the parent dies. However, letters of intent or a letter of instruction can also be a helpful resource for executors, says the article “Planning Head: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction” from The Mercury. This is especially valuable, if the executor does not know the decedent or their family members very well.

For disabled children, legal documents address specific issues and are not necessarily the right place to include personal information about the child or the parent’s desires for the child’s future. Estate plans need more information, especially for a minor child.

The goal is to create a document to make clear what the parents want for the child after they pass, whether that occurs early or late in the child’s life.

For a disabled child, the first questions to be addressed in the estate plan concern who will care for the child if the parent dies or becomes incapacitated, where will the child live and what funds will be available for their care. Once those matters are resolved, however, there are more questions about the child’s wants and needs.

The letter of intent can answer questions about the special information only a parent knows and is helpful in future decisions about their care and living situation.

The letter of intent concerning an estate should also include information about wishes for a funeral or burial and contain everything from directions for the music list for a ceremony to the writing on the headstone.

Once the letter of intent is created, the next question is, where should you put it so it is secure and can be accessed when it is needed?

Do not put it in a bank safe deposit box. This is a common error for estate planning documents as well. The executor may only access the contents of the safe deposit box after letters of administration have been issued. This happens after the funeral, and sometimes long after the funeral. By then, it will be too late for any instructions.

Keeping estate planning documents in a safe deposit box presents other problems. If the bank seals the safe deposit box on notification of the owner’s death, the executor will not be able to proceed. This can sometimes be prevented by having additional owners on the safe deposit box, if permitted by the bank . Any additional owners will also need to know where the key is located and be able get access to it.

The better solution is to keep all important documents including wills, financial power of attorney, health care powers, living wills, or health care directives, insurance forms, cemetery deeds, information for the family’s estate planning attorney, financial advisor, and CPA, etc., in one location known to the trusted person who will need access to the documents. That person will need a set of keys to the house. If they are kept in a fire and waterproof safe in the house; they will also need the keys to the safe.

If the parents move or move the documents, they will need to remember to tell the trusted person where these documents have moved. Otherwise, a lot of work will have been for naught.

Reference: The Mercury (Jan. 19, 2022) “Planning Head: For detailed instructions consider a letter of instruction”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How Do You Gift Your House to Your Children during Your Lifetime? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

Whether you have a split level or a log cabin, your estate plan should be considered when passing property along to the next generation. How you structure the transaction has legal and tax implications, explains the article “How estate planning can help you pass down a house to your kids and give them a financial leg up” from USA Today.

For one family, which had been rental property landlords for more than two decades, parents set up a revocable trust and directed the trustee to be responsible for liquidating houses only when they became vacant, otherwise maintaining them as rental properties as long as tenants were in good standing. They did this when the wife was pregnant with their first child, with the goal to maximize the value to their children as beneficiaries. This was a long-term strategy.

Taxes must always be considered. When a home or any capital asset is given to children while the parents are alive, there may be a capital gains tax issue. It is possible for the carryover cost basis to lead to a big cost. However, using a revocable trust avoids probate and gives them a step-up in basis to avoid capital gains taxes.

Many families use a traditional method: gifting the house to the children. The parents retain the ownership and benefit of the property during their lifetimes. When the last parent dies, the children get the home and the benefit of the stepped-up basis. However, many estate planning attorneys prefer to have a house pass to the next generation through a revocable trust. It not only avoids probate but having a trust allows the parents to dictate exactly what is to be done with the house. For example, the trust can be used to direct what happens if only one child wants the house. The one who wants the house can have it, but not without buying out the other children’s’ shares.

If the children are added onto the deed of the house, keep in mind whoever is added to the deed has all the rights and liabilities of an owner. If one child wants to live in the home and the others do not, the others will not be able to sell the house. The revocable trust mentioned above provides more control.

Selling the family home to an adult child may work, especially if the parents cannot afford to maintain the home and the child can. However, there are pitfalls here, since the parents lose control of the home. An alternative might be to deed the property to the children, have the children refinance the property and cash the parents out.

If parents sell the home below fair market value, they are giving up proceeds to finance their retirement. If they do not need the money, great, but if not, this is a bad financial move. There are also taxable gains consequences, if the home is sold for more than they paid. A home’s sale might result in a dramatic increase in property taxes to the buyer.

However you decide to pass the family home or other real estate property to children, the transfer needs to be aligned with the rest of your estate plan to avoid any unexpected costs or complications. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help determine the best way to do this, for now and for the future.

Reference: USA Today (Dec. 3, 2021) “How estate planning can help you pass down a house to your kids and give them a financial leg up”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys