Community Property

How Do I Transfer My Home into a Trust?

Say that a husband used his inheritance to purchase the family home outright. The wife signed a quitclaim deed to him to put the property into his living trust with the condition that if he died before his wife, she could live in the home until her death.

However, a common issue is that the husband or the creator of the trust never signed the living trust. So what would happen to the property if the husband were to die before the wife?

How do I transfer a home into my trust
Transferring your home into your trust isn’t a complicated matter as long as you know the pit-falls to lookout for.

This can be complicated if the couple lives out-of-state and it’s a second marriage for each of the spouses. They both also have adult children from prior marriages.

The Herald Tribune’s recent article, “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney,” says that in this situation it’s important to know if the deed was to the husband personally or to his living trust. If the wife quitclaimed the home to her husband personally, he then owns her share of the home, subject to any marital interests she may still have in the home. However, if the wife quitclaimed the home to his living trust, and the trust was never created, the deed may be invalid. The wife may still own the husband’s interest in the home.

It’s common for a couple to own the home as joint tenants with rights of survivorship. This would have meant that if the wife died, her husband would own the entire property automatically. If he died, she’d own the entire home automatically. She then signed a quitclaim deed over to him or his trust.

First, the wife should see if the deed was even filed or recorded. If it wasn’t recorded or filed, she could simply destroy the document and keep the status of the title as it was. However, if the document was recorded and she transferred ownership to her husband, he would be the sole owner of the home, subject to her marital rights under state law.

If the trust doesn’t exist, her quitclaim deed transfer to an entity that doesn’t exist would create a situation, where she could claim that she still owned her interest in the home. However, the home may now be owned by the spouses as tenants in common, rather than joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

To complicate things further, if the husband now owns the home and the wife has marital rights in the home, upon his death, she may still be entitled to a share of the home under her husband’s will, if he has one, or by the laws of intestacy. However, the husband’s children would also own a share of his share of the home. At that point, the wife would co-own the home with his children.

You can see how crazy this can get. It’s best to seek the advice of a qualified estate planning attorney to guide you through the process and make sure that the proper documents get signed and filed or recorded.

Reference: The (Sarasota, FL) Herald Tribune (September 8, 2019) “Home ownership complications need guidance from estate planning attorney”

Your Will Isn’t the End of Your Estate Planning

Even if your financial life is pretty simple, you should have a will. And once you have a will, that’s not the end of your estate planning.  There’s still some work to be done to make sure your family isn’t left with an expensive mess to clean up.  Assets must be properly titled, so that assets are distributed as intended upon death.

Your Will is only one piece of your estate planning.

Forbes’ recent article, “For Estate Plan To Work As Intended, Assets Must Be Properly Titled” notes that with the exception of the choice of potential guardians for children, the most important function of a will is to make certain that the transfer of assets to beneficiaries is the way you intended.

However, not all assets are disposed of by a will—they pass to beneficiaries regardless of the intentions stated in the will. Your will only controls the disposition of assets that fall within your probated estate.

An example of when a designated beneficiary controls the disposition of a financial asset is life insurance. Other examples are retirement accounts, such as a 401(k) or an IRA. When there’s a named beneficiary, assets will be distributed accordingly, which may be different than the intentions stated in a will.

The title of real estate controls its disposition. When property is jointly owned, how it is titled determines if the decedent’s interest in the property passes to the surviving partner, becomes part of the decedent’s estate, or passes to a third party. Titling of jointly owned property can be complicated in community property states.

In the same light, a revocable trust is an inter vivos or living trust that’s created during the grantor’s life, as part of an estate plan.

Such a trust can be used to ensure privacy, avoid the expenses and delays in the probate process and provide for continuity of asset management. A critical part of the planning is that the grantor must transfer (or retitle) assets to the trust.

Wills are very important in estate planning. To ensure that your estate plan fulfills your intentions, talk to an estate planning attorney about the proper titling of your assets.

Reference: Forbes (May 20, 2019) “For Estate Plan To Work As Intended, Assets Must Be Properly Titled”

Estate Planning for Blended Families: The Importance of Updating Your Estate Plan

A recent Massachusetts case highlights the importance of estate planning for blended families, especially the need to update an estate plan after remarriage.

Estate Planning for Blended Families
An outdated will could wreak havoc in estate planning for blended families.

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court recently unanimously ruled for the second wife of a man who demanded her share of the real estate her husband had willed to his four adult children. The Boston Globe reports in the article “SJC says spouses are entitled to part of significant other’s estate when they are left out of will” that the ruling written by Justice Elspeth B. Cypher says that widow Susan Ciani was protected by the law and has the right to cancel out the estate plan her husband approved before he died. The court held that the law was clear that “the Legislature intended for the surviving spouse to have an ownership interest in the real property for life, not merely an interest in the income produced by the real property.”

The husband, Raymond Ciani, created a will in 2000 that left his estate to his first wife, Mary. Under the will, after her death, his four children were to be sole beneficiaries of the estate, which was worth an estimated $675,000. But Mary died before her husband. Raymond then married Susan in 2013 and died in 2015 without changing his will.

After her husband’s death, Susan challenged the will in court and remained in the family home. Both Susan and the children went into Probate and Family Court and agreed to sell the family home and other assets, while judges decide who gets what.

The attorney for the four children, Maria L. Remillard, said the Court has created what could become a legal problem for blended families, because the law is obscure.

“It’s a rude awakening for a lot of people,’’ Remillard said of the law and the SJC’s endorsement of it. “It isn’t until someone passes away that the parties and surviving spouses realize the impact . . . After a second marriage, the second spouse could, in fact, totally disrupt the estate plan.”

The Supreme Judicial Court’s decision allows Susan to get one-third of the value of her husband’s real estate holdings and a similar share in the estate. If both sides had not agreed to sell the family home, Susan also would have been allowed to live there for the rest of her life.

Some states adhere to community property laws that permit a spouse to keep half ownership of all property in a marriage. However, Massachusetts follows an elective share law to protect spouses against disinheritance.

The decision emphasizes the importance of keeping your estate plan up to date, especially if you have remarried.

Reference: The Boston Globe (January 8, 2019) “SJC says spouses are entitled to part of significant other’s estate when they are left out of will”

What Are the Tax Considerations When Parents Transfer a Home to Children?

When you inherit a home from your parents, there are several tax issues that need to be addressed. They differ by state. You’ll need to understand the details, so you don’t end up with a tax surprise.

When a home is transferred from a parent to a child, there is no property tax reassessment, if this takes place in California. This can lead to challenges figuring out the difference between property tax base and cost basis. This is clarified in a recent article from the San Francisco Chronicle, “Taxes on a home can be confusing: Here’s how to keep them straight.”

Couple-home-house-1288482If parents transfer their home to a child, the child can keep the current assessed value and annual property tax. The transfer can be either while the parents are living or in their will. If the transfer is an inheritance, and the child keeps the low property tax base, the child will still receive the stepped-up basis and avoid a substantial capital gain, when the home is eventually sold.

In other words, if parents give their home to their child as an inheritance, can the child have both the continued low property tax and the stepped-up basis? Yes, provided the property is transferred at the parent’s death. If it’s transferred while the parent is still alive, the child will receive the property tax break. However, he or she will not get the step-up in basis, which is a huge tax break for highly appreciated homes.

People frequently confuse “property tax base” and “cost basis,” and property taxes with income taxes. They’re entirely separate systems. Property taxes are governed by state law.Cost basis, capital gains and the step-up in basis are part of theincome tax system. For example, in California, your property tax base (known as your “assessment”) is generally what you paid for your house, plus an inflation factor not to exceed 2% a year, plus the value of major improvements. When property changes hands in California, it’s typically reassessed at current market value, which can mean a big spike in property taxes. As you can imagine, California home prices have generally increased much more than 2% a year over long periods.

Proposition 58 allows parents and children to transfer a primary residence, as well as a large amount of other property, between each other without any property-tax. This transfer can be by gift, sale or inheritance. This tax break is usually used, when a parent dies and leaves a home to a child or children. However, parents can also transfer the home, while they’re still alive without requiring a reassessment. The child can later transfer the inherited home, and its low property tax base, to their children.

Under the income tax system, the cost basis in your home (if you’ve never rented it out) is generally what you paid for it, plus the cost of major improvements. If you sell your home for more than its cost basis, the profit is taxed as a capital gain. If you’ve used the home as your primary residence for at least two of the past five years ending on the sale date, the first $250,000 in capital gains, or $500,000 for married couples, is tax free. If you retain your home until death, your heirs could receive an even greater capital gains tax break.

When you pass away with appreciated assets, including a home, their cost basis is “stepped up” to the market value on your date of death. Your heirs inherit the assets with their new, stepped-up cost basis. This will eliminate any taxes on the appreciation that happened in your lifetime. If your heirs sold these assets immediately, they’d owe little or no capital gains tax.

Unlike the property tax break, this capital gains tax break is only for inherited property. If you give your home to a child while you’re still alive, the child takes over your cost basis and loses the stepped-up basis. In addition, if you give your child all or part of the home while you’re alive, you’ll have to file a gift-tax return for the value that exceeds the annual gift tax exclusion. Although you probably won’t owe gift tax on the home’s value, it will be subtracted from your combined lifetime gift and estate tax exemption, which is $11.18 million for any person who dies in 2018, or $22.36 million for a couple.

If a married couple owns a home together as community property, and one spouse dies, the entire house is stepped-up to the date of death value. After the surviving spouse dies, it’s stepped up again.

Hypothetically, you could use the $250,000/$500,000 capital gains tax exclusion on a primary residence use every two years. There is no limit, provided you’ve lived in the home at least two of the past five years. However, there’s an exception if you bought the house as part of a 1031 exchange. That’s a federal law that allows you defer the tax due on the sale of business or investment property, if you reinvest the proceeds in another property. If the house is acquired through a 1031 exchange and you convert rental property to a primary residence, you have to live in it two of the last five years, but also own it for the last five years.

If you give a home to your children, they can use this exclusion, if they meet the primary-residence requirement. This is entirely different than a property tax break, which you can use only once. California homeowners 55 and older can sell their primary residence and transfer their property tax assessment to a replacement home of equal or lesser value. The replacement home must be in the same county as the old one (or in one of the 11 counties that accept incoming transfers). Homeowners, including their spouse, if married, can only do this oncein a lifetime. This transfer doesn’t impact your cost basis or capital gains.

There’s an interesting new law being proposed in California, which appears on the November ballot. Proposition 5 would allow seniors to transfer their property tax base to a replacement home, regardless of the price and located anywhere in California, as many times as they want. If they bought a home that cost less, their assessment would be reduced, and if they buy a pricier home, the difference in the price between the old and new homes would be added to the old home’s assessment.

Reference: San Francisco Chronicle (September 1, 2018)“Taxes on a home can be confusing: Here’s how to keep them straight”

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