As you work on your estate plan and begin to make plans for how you will pass down your real estate assets, you must consider the methods you will use to do so. Real estate could be the most valuable asset in your entire estate, which means surviving family members will have lots of interest in what will happen to it.
Before transferring the real estate, make sure you have taken good care of it by making all your mortgage and property tax payments and by keeping it well maintained. This will keep its value up and prevent your beneficiaries from dealing with any unpleasant financial surprises upon your death.
Depending on the method you use to transfer this property, probate could be necessary. First, you should find the deed that initially transferred the property to the deceased owner. This could be called a grant, a quitclaim, joint tenancy or warranty deed, and would state how the deceased and any co-owners that exist held title to the property. This will then determine the method of transfer.
The following are some ways you can transfer real estate to a new owner:
Property held in sole ownership
If you are the sole proprietor of the property, you have several methods to pass the assets to your beneficiary of choice. You may simply include the property in question in your will with a chosen heir. The downside of this option is that the property will then have to pass through probate.
You could also place the property in a trust, which would likely allow it to bypass the probate process. This is especially true in California. If you do place a property in a trust, the most recent deed should indicate a transfer of the property to your chosen trustee.
Property held in joint tenancy
If your property is held in joint tenancy, it will automatically go to the other person (or people) who hold that property with you. No probate is necessary for the transfer of ownership to occur, although the new owner will have to fill out some paperwork.
However, it is still a good idea to have a provision in your will or in the ownership documents to determine who would inherit the property if you are the last surviving tenant.
California is one of the several states that allow a property to be held as community property, which means a couple owns it as a single entity. These states also include Arizona, Idaho, Louisiana, New Mexico, Nevada, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Under this arrangement, spouses may leave their half-interest in the property to whomever they choose, but if they do not name a direct beneficiary, that interest will go to the surviving spouse.
Some of these community property states, including California, offer the option of holding community property with right of survivorship. When the first spouse dies, the survivor automatically owns the property—without the need for probate.
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