Owning real property has always been a staple investment vehicle for people throughout history. One attractive feature of investing in real property is that it may also double as a Homestead. In other cases, real estate investments may be rental, commercial or recreational (i.e. your log cabin or private island).
Whatever the case may be, it is important to understand that real estate can be owned in several ways, each of which has important legal consequences when it comes to leaving it to your loved ones upon death. Failing to understand how you legally own your property and how it will be passed on to your loved ones can lead to unintended, and often unforeseen consequences.
Outright Gifts at Death
- Gifts In Your Will. Leaving real property to someone at your death can be accomplished via your Last Will and Testament. Your Estate Planning Attorney can help you create the proper testamentary language to direct that ownership of a certain parcel of property be transferred to your chosen loved one(s). This method is very straightforward and initially, often less expensive than other options. However, making this kind of gift in a Last Will and Testament usually requires the person in charge of your estate when you die (the “Personal Representative”) to submit your Last Will and Testament to the probate court and begin the probate process to transfer the asset pursuant to the terms of your Last Will and Testament. Probate can be expensive, public and time-consuming.
- Gifts from a Trust. Many Revocable Living Trusts are designed to serve as a substitute for a Last Will and Testament by directing who among your loved ones should receive certain items of property at your death, including real estate. The Trust, similar to a Will, can also distribute your real property to your loved one(s) pursuant to your wishes. However, the Trustee, instead of your Personal Representative will transfer the property to your designated recipient privately during the Trust Administration. One of the primary benefits of a Trust is that, as long as you transfer your property’s title to the Trust before you die, the Trustee will have the necessary power to make the post death transfer to your intended beneficiaries. Probate will be unnecessary, saving your estate and trust beneficiaries significant costs and delay.
- Gifts Using Enhanced Life Estate Deeds. A number of states have passed laws that allow property owners to record with the local land records office, a deed that transfers the title automatically (without the need of a probate court) to a named beneficiary at the death of the original land owner. This method for transferring real estate outright to the person whom you intend to receive it at your death can be very simple and cost-effective. Not every state allows this type of transfer, so it is important to check your state laws or consult with an attorney knowledgeable in this area before attempting to use such a tool. Florida has a unique type of deed, named the “Enhanced Life Estate Deed” (a/k/a “Lady Bird Deed”), which allows for this type of title transfer.