Problems with the Transfer on Death Deed

A transfer on death deed is a mechanism that can keep a home or other real property out of probate upon the property owner’s passing. The transfer on death deed effectively says, “When I pass away, I want this piece of property to go to so-and-so.” Transfer on death deeds are a completely legal way to transfer real property, but I generally caution against using the deeds. I caution against transfer on death deeds because they are not as dynamic as a living trust and can lead to unintended disputes after passing.

No Efficient Remedy for Predeceased Beneficiaries

To me, the most significant shortcoming of the transfer on death deed is that there’s no way to offer alternative beneficiaries if one of the beneficiaries predeceases the transferor. (see PROB § 5652(a)(4)). This is a major departure from other estate planning tools like a will or a living trust. Wills and living trusts allow you to name alternative beneficiaries in the event the intended beneficiary passes away before you.

For example, say you have two children who each have their own children and you want to leave your family’s cabin to both of your children and their families to enjoy. So you set up a transfer on death deed naming your two children as beneficiaries. Unfortunately, one of your children predeceases you and you don’t change the transfer on death deed. When you pass away, the family cabin would be left entirely to the child who survived you. Your other child would not receive any interest in the property under the transfer on death deed, leaving that child’s family with no legal interest in the family cabin. Under a will or trust, you likely would have said that your child’s family would take an interest in the family cabin if the child predeceased you.

Not Effective for Properties Held in Joint Tenancy

Transfer on death deeds are void and ineffective if a property is titled as joint tenancy or community property with right of survivorship. (see PROB § 5664) An interest in a property held in joint tenancy immediately passes to the other surviving tenants upon one of the tenants’ passing, so it makes sense that a transfer on death deed would not effect a joint tenancy.

A transfer on death deed is similarly ineffective if spouses who own a property together try to establish a transfer on death deed. When one of the spouse’s passes away, the remaining interest would automatically go to the other spouse, making the transfer on death deed void. Finally, the surviving would have to create a new transfer on death deed since they are the only remaining interest holder in the property. Establishing a living trust would solve the joint tenancy problems with transfer on death deeds.

No Way to Designate Shares

A transfer on death deed transfers the property to the beneficiaries as tenants in common in equal shares. (see PROB § 5652(a)(3)). This means that if there are two beneficiaries, each would receive a ½ interest in the property – you’re not allowed to split an interest ¾ for one person and ¼ for another person. This becomes problematic if there is reason to provide unequal distribution.

Difficult to Revoke

Finally, transfer on death deeds have statutory requirements for revocation. Unlike a will or trust that could be revoked immediately by a simple amendment, a transfer on death deed must be signed, notarized, and recorded with the county within sixty days of notarization (see PROB § 5632). Adding extra steps to the process increases the likelihood that the revocation won’t be effective because of delays, missed steps, etc.

In conclusion, I rarely recommend transfer on death deeds due to their rigid requirements and ack of flexibility. You will not find a transfer on death deed as part of BDR’s Four-Part Plan because they are not the most effective method to Make Your Plan.

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