Compare the Alternatives
Thinking of putting your child’s name on your house deed? If that’s the person who will get the home after you pass in any case, it might seem sensible. And maybe it is, in certain circumstances. After all, probate can be time-consuming, and even contentious.
But before making this decision, do you know that your child is ready and willing to own a house? And at that point, have you consulted with an attorney and tax specialist about doing things this way? Here are some key issues to spot before obtaining professional guidance.
Effects of Naming the Child as Co-Owner
A child named on your deed co-owns the real estate. Consider what this means:
- If the home has a mortgage, your lender might require everyone on the deed to be counted as a borrower.
- Legally, everyone on the deed gets to decide whether to sell the home, or take a loan out on its value.
- The more names on the deed, the more likely it becomes that debt or accident claims will attach to the property value.
- If the child divorces or predeceases the parent, the child’s ex or heirs may become unexpected co-owners.
Are you single or married? If married, even a spouse who’s not on the deed could have property claims in some states. Is your child an adult yet? A court might be asked to appoint a guardian to represent an underaged owner if an adult owner passes away.
And remember that co-owners keep the tax basis from the home’s purchase price. When one passes away, if the surviving co-owners wishes or needs to sell, capital gains taxes on years of property appreciation could create a major bill.
In contrast, when a child inherits a house and sells it, there’s the capital gains break. Your child gets a new cost basis: the value as it stands when you pass on.
Important note: When a deed names multiple people, vesting the deed matters as much as creating it.
Alternative Ways to Transfer Home Ownership to a Child
What if you left the house to your chosen beneficiary in your will? There’s something to be said for a Last Will. It results in a deed certified by your county court, which passes the real estate neatly through its chain of title.
Another key option is the transfer on death deed (a.k.a. the TOD or beneficiary deed). You’ll fill in an Affidavit of Death form, to be notarized and filed with the county recorder of deeds.
Think of the beneficiary forms a bank asks you to sign, so your accounts pass straight to a named recipient when you pass on. TOD works in much the same way, and is also possible for you to change if you’d like to. But if the TOD isn’t available and a will isn’t right for you, you could consider creating:
- A revocable living trust. Like a will or the TOD described above, you can change your mind with this option any time before your death or incapacity. This option bypasses probate, but your recipient still gets the benefit of a new tax basis.
- An irrevocable trust. Here, the named trustee takes over right away, and even pays taxes on the real estate until the property passes to your child or children. The key advantage? Avoiding probate. The key drawback? Giving up control — for example, you can’t take out home loans.
- A life estate. Draft a deed correctly, and you can form a life estate to let you stay in your home while you’re living, though the house legally belongs to your beneficiary. Life estate deeds avoid probate. What’s the catch? The holder of a life estate shares rights with a co-owner.
- A testamentary trust. Some legal experts might recommend the use of special instruments to support a Last Will, to make sure your intended recipient(s) get specific assets. A testamentary (will) trust is only in effect after death.
Looking for further ways to hold your property during your life, yet still pass it along to your child? A real estate attorney in your locality can tell you a lot about what can work in your state and your situation.
Important note: In addition to personal holding options, there are business structures such as the LLC. See more estate planning options here.
If You Still Want Your Child on the Deed…
Remember that if you apply for Medicaid over the next five years after adding your child’s name to the deed, you have likely delayed your benefits eligibility. That’s because of the gift factor. You have passed part of your wealth to your child. You’d be well advised to go over your situation and needs with a Medicaid planner or attorney.
Plus, don’t forget that you are conveying a gift to a non-spouse for tax purposes. (You can review the IRS guidance on reporting gifts here.) While your title transfer probably won’t incur a gift tax, it will use up some of your lifetime tax exclusion.
Still unfazed? Well, then… know how to create a valid deed, execute and notarize it, and record it promptly in the home’s county. Two major kinds of deeds are:
- The warranty deed. The warranty deed is based on a professional title search. It won’t catch everything, but title insurance (did you get a policy when you closed on the home?) covers various title defects that searches can miss.
- The quitclaim deed. For conveying the title of your home to a child or living trust, when the parties require no guarantee against title defects, a quitclaim is a simple method.
Pro tip: A correctly drafted gift deed immediately transfers title when no money or anything else expected in return for the gift. The conveyance more than just a promise of a future gift, and it can’t be revoked.
☛ Thinking of giving away or sharing ownership of your home? You can select gift deed templates and other deed forms on Deeds.com.
Our forms have the correct supplements needed for proper recording with specific counties. They comply fully with county-specific rules. State law, too, can be picky about the procedures and language to use. At Deeds.com, we continually review and update our documents.
You’re legally allowed to transfer your property yourself. Yet we recommend consulting a real estate lawyer have the paperwork properly drafted, signed, witnessed, and recorded.
Relationships Are Unique. So Is Each Deed Transfer.
Everyone’s situation is unique, and choices are always impacted by the relevant set of state laws where the home is located. We are pleased to offer our readers general information. Online articles are not case-specific, so they should never be considered legal advice.
Many people make gifts of real estate, and so can you. Before going ahead with your plans, be sure that placing your child on the deed is right for you, considering the consequences and the varied options available to you as a homeowner.
U.S. Internal Revenue Service: Frequently Asked Questions on Gift Taxes (last reviewed or updated Jul. 30, 2021).
Deeds.com: The Gift of Real Estate: What You Need to Know (Jul. 11, 2021).
Deeds.com: Should You Transfer Your Home to Your Children Now, or Leave It in Your Will? (Oct. 16, 2020).
Deeds.com: Adding Someone to Your Real Estate Deed? Know the Risks (Feb. 19, 2019).