Probate court is no one’s idea of fun, so it’s something you may want to spare your heirs when they inherit your home. One simple tool for doing that: a “life estate.”
Do you want to avoid probate when it comes to the transfer of your assets at death, especially when it comes to your home? Perhaps you would prefer that home to pass directly into the hands of your adult heirs. If yes, then consider using a “life estate” approach.
If the concept of a life estate is new to you, then a recent article in The Wall Street Journal ought to be on your reading list. As the article titled “An Easy Way for Heirs to Inherit Your Home” explains, a life estate for real estate operates like a “payable-on-death account” for a bank account.
Here is how a life estate works. First, you draw up a deed to your house naming your heirs as beneficiaries. Second, you live in the house for the rest of your life. Third and lastly, after you pass, your named heirs need only to present your death certificate to assume title to the family home. This can save time and money often associated with probate. Simple?
A life estate may be too simple, depending on the circumstances. As with most things legal, things can get complicated quickly. For example, you will not be free to sell your home during your lifetime without beneficiary consent and there are tax issues to consider. Moreover, in Utah, a life estate may be exempt as a countable asset under Utah Medicaid law but is subject to the Medicaid lien and may be recovered by the state department of Recover Services upon the death of the life estate holder. This certain could cause difficulties for the named heirs and certainly needs to be considered in using life estates as a planning tool.
Depending upon the home and your objectives, there may be better ways to transfer the family home. Regardless, a life estate is a proven transfer tool just right for the right circumstances.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal (February 9, 2014) “An Easy Way for Heirs to Inherit Your Home”