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Unrecorded deeds hurt estate planning

Unrecorded Deeds hurt Estate Planning

Using an unrecorded deed to transfer property without probate sounds like an easy way to transfer ownership of the family home, but is it asking for trouble in your estate planning? That’s the topic of an article from NWI Times entitled, “Estate Planning: Are unrecorded deeds a good idea?” The fact that the idea came from a family’s attorney makes the question even more important. The attorney told the parents the children could record the deed after their deaths and transfer the property without probate. Most estate planning attorneys haven’t seen this technique used in a long time, and some may never have heard of it. There’s probably a good reason for this—it’s an estate mess waiting to happen. Unrecorded deeds hurt estate planning.

First of all, what if the deed itself goes missing? One of the most common questions estate planning attorneys hear is “What do I do because Mom lost the_____?” Fill in the blanks—the deed, the title to the car, the bank statement, etc. Important documents often get lost. If a deed is missing and can’t be recorded, title can’t be transferred. Hoping an unrecorded deed doesn’t get lost could be devastating to your estate planning.

Until the unrecord deed is processed, and title transferred, the holders of the title still own the property. They can mortgage the property or sell it. The plan for the children to receive and record the deed may not have legal authority.

Laws about how deeds must be created change. Indiana made a change to the law in 2020 that required signatures on deeds to be witnessed. Without the witness, the deeds can’t be recorded. If the adult child is holding a deed for the recording and it’s not witnessed because the parents have died, it can’t be recorded.

There are better ways to transfer ownership of the family home than an unrecorded deed, that adhere to the general principles of estate planning.

There are also different types of deeds that are more commonly used in estate planning to transfer home ownership without going through probate. One is a Transfer on Death Deed (TOD Deeds). A TOD deed allows a person to name beneficiaries on their real estate property without giving up any rights of ownership. The TOD deed is recorded, so there’s no worry about mom or pop losing the paperwork.  The TOD deed can also be changed by recording another deed or using an affidavit.

Trusts can also be used to transfer home ownership and keep the transaction out of probate. Do not wait. Unrecorded deeds can hurt your estate planning. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain the different types of trusts used to transfer a home. State laws vary, and allowable trusts vary, so talking with a local estate planning attorney is the best option.

If you are interested in learning more about handling property in your planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: NWI Times (May23, 2021) “Estate Planning: Are unrecorded deeds a good idea?”

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take care when transferring house to children

Take Care when Transferring House to Children

It seems natural to want to protect your home in the event that you are unable to maintain it. A logical thought is to give it to your kids. You need to take care when transferring your house to children. Let us say the parent is 90 and has a will bequeathing a home to a child, a son. The house was purchased 20 years ago for $300,000 and is now worth about $400,000. The child stays there occasionally to help care for the parent, but he doesn’t live there. The parents’ estate is otherwise worth less than $1 million. Nj.com’s recent article entitled “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?” explains that there are two primary reasons why parents want to transfer their home to their children.

First, they think they will be able to protect the house, in the event the parent needs to move to a nursing home. Second, they want to avoid probate.

Because many states now have a simple probate process for smaller estates, probate avoidance alone isn’t a worthwhile rationale to transfer the house to a child.

The transfer of the house to a child who doesn’t live there will be subject to the look-back rule for Medicaid, which in most states is now five years. As a result, if a parent transfers the house to the child within five years of applying for Medicaid, the transfer will trigger a penalty which will begin when the Medicaid application is submitted. The length of the penalty period depends on the value of the house. Therefore, if the parent might require nursing home care in the next five years, the parent should have enough other assets to cover the penalty period or wait five years before applying for Medicaid.

In addition, the transfer of the house may also cause a significant capital gains tax liability to the child when the house is sold. That’s because the child will receive the house with the carryover basis of the parent. However, if the child inherits the house, the child will get a step-up in basis—the basis will be the value of the house at the date of the parent’s death.

If the parent transferring the house retains a life estate—the right to live in the house until he or she passes away—the property will get a step-up in basis to the value of the house at the date of death.  In the event that the house is sold while the parent is still alive, the value of the life estate interest will be excluded from income tax but the value of the child’s remainder interest in the house may be subject to capital gain taxes.

Last, if the house is transferred to a child who has financial troubles, the child’s creditors may be able to force the child to sell the house to pay his debts. Take care when transferring your house to children. Work with an estate planning attorney to ensure you have considered all the factors before you make a change in home ownership.

If you would like to learn more about gifting real property, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nj.com (April 20, 2021) “What are the pros and cons of transferring a home’s title?”

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Can I be paid as a caregiver?

A victory for Adults caring for Aging Parents

A New Jersey Appellate Division recently reaffirmed the state’s regulation that allows older adults to transfer their homes to adult caregiver children without Medicaid penalty, reports an article titled “Major Victory for Adults Who Provide Home Care for Parents” from The National Law Review. The regulation permits the home to be transferred with no Medicaid penalty, when the adult child has provided care to the parent for a period of two years. This allows the parents to remain at home under the care of their children, delaying the need to enter a long-term care facility. It is a victory for adults caring for aging parents.

New Jersey Medicaid has tried to narrow this rule for many years, claiming that the regulation only applies to caregivers who did not work outside of the home. This decision, along with other cases, recognizes that caregivers qualify if they meet the requirements of the regulation, regardless of whether they work outside of the home.

The court held that the language of the regulations requires only that:

  • The adult child must live with the parent for two years, prior to the parent moving into a nursing facility.
  • The child provided special care that allowed the parent to live at home when the parent would otherwise need to move out of their own home and into a nursing care facility.
  • The care provided by the adult child was more than personal support activities and was essential for the health and safety of the parent.

In the past, qualifying to transfer a home to an adult caregiver child was met by a huge obstacle: the caregiver was required to either provide all care to the parents or pay for any care from their own pockets. This argument has now been firmly rejected in the decision A.M. v. Monmouth County Board of Social Services.

The court held that there was nothing in the regulation requiring the child to be the only provider of care, and the question of who paid for additional care was completely irrelevant legally.

It is now clear that as long as the child personally provides essential care without which the parent would need to live in a nursing facility, then the fact that additional caregivers may be needed does not preclude the ability to transfer the home to the adult child.

The decision is a huge shift, and one that elder law estate planning attorneys have fought over for years, as there have been increasingly stricter interpretation of the rule by New Jersey Medicaid.

It amounts to a huge victory for adults caring for aging parents. While Medicaid is a federal program, each state has the legal right to set its own eligibility requirements. This New Jersey Appellate Court decision is expected to have an influence over other states’ decisions in similar circumstances. Since every state is different, adult children should speak with an elder law estate planning attorney about how the law of their parent’s state of residence would apply if they were facing this situation. If you would like to learn more about caring for aging loved ones, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The National Law Review (March 22, 2021) “Major Victory for Adults Who Provide Home Care for Parents”

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take care when transferring house to children

Selling a Home after the Death of a Parent

The first thing you’ll need to know about selling a home after the death of a parent, is how your parents held title, or owned, the home, begins the recent article “Home ownership after the death of a spouse” from nwi.com. In most cases, the home is owned by a couple as “joint tenants with rights of survivorship” or as “tenants by the entirety.” The latter is less common.

Tenancy by the entirety is a form of ownership available only to married people in a limited number of states and offers several advantages to the owners. It creates an ownership interest where the spouses own property jointly and not as individuals. It also creates the rights of survivorship, so that the surviving spouse owns the property by law when the first spouse dies.

Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship is similar to tenants by the entirety, in that they both convey rights of survivorship. However, joint tenancy does not treat the owners as a single unit. If you own entireties property with a spouse, you may not transfer your interest without your spouse’s permission because you own it as a unit.

In joint tenants, if one of the tenants want to transfer their interest in the property, he or she may do so at any time—and do not need the permission of the other tenant. This has led to some sticky situations, which is why tenants by the entirety is preferred in many situations.

If your parents own their home as tenants by the entireties or as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, the surviving spouse owns the home as a matter of law, and legally, ownership begins at the moment that first spouse dies.

Different states record this change of ownership differently, so you’ll need to speak with an estate planning attorney in your community (or the state where your parents lived, if it was different than where you live).

To notify the recorder’s office of the death, some state laws require the submission of a surviving spouse affidavit, which puts the recorder and the community on notice that one of the owners has died and the survivor now owns the home individually. Here again, an estate planning attorney will know the laws that apply in your situation.

There was a time when people recorded a death certificate, but this does not occur often. The affidavit makes a number of recitals that are important, and the recorded document proves the change of title.

In most cases, there is no need for a new deed, since the surviving spouse owns the property at the time of death, and the affidavit itself demonstrates proof of the transfer of title in lieu of a deed. If you are selling a home after the death of a parent, be sure to know how the home was deeded and what steps you will need to take. If you would like to learn more about probate and managing property after the death of a loved one, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: nwi.com (March 14, 2021) “Home ownership after the death of a spouse”

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Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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