Is Transferring the House to Children a Good Idea?

Clients frequently ask this question, especially as mom or dad is aging and perhaps living in assisted living or some other senior care arrangement.  Many try to do so using online forms, and find later that it was a mistake.  Transferring your house to your children while you’re alive may avoid probate, but gifting a home also can mean a rather large and unnecessary tax bill or could effect eligibility for long term care benefits. It also may place your house at risk, if your children get sued or file for bankruptcy

You also could be making a mistake, if you hope it will help keep the house from being consumed by nursing home bills.

There are better ways to transfer a house to your children, as well as a little-known potential fix that may help even if the giver has since died, says Considerable’s recent article entitled “Should you transfer your house to your adult kids?”

If a parent signs a quitclaim to give her son the house and then dies, it can potentially mean a tax bill of thousands of dollars for the son.

Families who see this error in time can undo the damage, by gifting the house back to the parent.

People will also transfer a home to try to qualify for Medicaid, but any gifts or transfers made within five years of applying for Medicaid can result in a penalty period when seniors are disqualified from receiving benefits.  A capable elder law attorney can advise you on better ways to address this, as well as potential corrections if necessary.

In addition, transferring your home to another person can expose you to their financial problems because their creditors could file liens on your home and, depending on state law, take some or most of its value. If the child divorces, the house could become an asset that must be divided as part of the marital estate.

Section 2036 of the Internal Revenue Code says that if the parent were to retain a “life interest” in the property, which includes the right to continue living there, the home would remain in her estate rather than be considered a completed gift. However, there are rules for what constitutes a life interest, including the power to determine what happens to the property and liability for its bills.

There are other ways to avoid probate. Many states and DC permit “transfer on death” deeds that let homeowners transfer their homes at death without probate.  Texas has both transfer on death deeds and “Lady Bird Deeds,” and an attorney can advise you on the differences and the best way to utilize them with your estate plan.  An excellent solution is to use a living trust which allows assets it owns or receives at death to avoid probate.  Having the trust own the property, or possibly using a deed to convey the property to the the trust at death, are excellent solutions.

If you are interested in learning more, please see this article for various ways to own and hold real estate.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/how-to-own-your-real-estate/  

In sum, there are many unexpected consequences to transferring your home to your children, so it is important to discuss the best way to convey the home to your loved ones with an attorney.

Reference: Considerable (Sep. 18) “Should you transfer your house to your adult kids?”

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Can Mom Leave a Home to a Child but Not Grandchildren?

You have many options on how to leave a home to your child, but not a grandchild, including a will, trust and an enhanced life estate deed.

There are numerous ways to pass your property at death. A woman with three grown daughters faced a problem about passing down the family home. She wanted to leave a home to a child who has taken care of and is closest to her. However, she also wanted to be sure that, if something happened to this youngest daughter, the house would go to her two other daughters and not the close daughter’s adult children.

With proper planning, this can be done, as described in the article “Mom needs contingency plan to pass house title” from mySanAntonio.

One way is to rely on a last will and testament. The will would state that she leaves the house to the youngest daughter, under terms of a testamentary trust inside the will. The executor would probate the will and the trust would be established at death.  The trust terms would permit the daughter to use, enjoy, and live in the house during her lifetime, as the beneficiary of the testamentary trust.

The two older daughters would be named as the secondary beneficiaries of the trust. When the younger daughter dies, the trust distributes the house to the older daughters.  The trust would also provide what would happen to the property if the older daughters are deceased.

The plan will need to be prepared by a qualified estate planning attorney. This is not a terrible process, if the will is professionally written and properly executed, includes an executor and a trustee and clear instructions about her wishes.

However, there are other options, which can also be used in conjunction.  One is an enhanced life estate deed and another is a living trust. The enhanced life estate deed specifies that the woman is retaining a life estate, that is, the right to use, enjoy and occupy her home, for the rest of her life. The document specifies that when she dies, the home goes to her youngest daughter. The owner would also want to specify that she has the right to change her mind at any time.

This approach avoids probate. However, there is a downside. If the youngest daughter dies before the mother, then the mother will need to take legal action to cancel the deed and issue a new one to the two older daughters. If the daughter outlives her mother, once she inherits the house, there will be no way to have it transferred to the other sisters in the future (unless the daughter choses to do so) and presumably the property will go to the grandchildren after all.  Clients who try to construct their own estate plans often fall into this trap, they try to rely on beneficiary designations for everything and can’t address contingencies.

A living trust provides the detailed control allowed in a will, but the trust, which must be properly created and funded, avoids going to probate. The trust would let the mother live in the home, and when she dies, the title to the house stays in trust with her youngest daughter, who is able to live in the house. However, she never becomes the owner of the house. The trust would continue to own the house. The trust would specify that when the daughter dies, the house goes to the two older daughters. She may also use the enhanced life estate deed, and have it name the trust as beneficiary at her death to ensure it goes to the right beneficiaries.

There are other considerations which affect these decisions, such as taxes, who to put in charge of the process and long term care planning.  See here for more information.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/removing-your-house-from-your-trust/

If you have a similar situation and want to learn more, call our office today.  We will walk you through these issues and help craft a plan that accomplishes your goals.

Reference: mySanAntonio (June 8, 2020) “Mom needs contingency plan to pass house title”

Continue ReadingCan Mom Leave a Home to a Child but Not Grandchildren?