Deciding when and how to relinquish the family home can be one of the most challenging issues seniors face. For many, a home is their most valuable asset and a cornerstone of the wealth they’d like to transfer to their family.
If you’re one of AARP’s estimated 87 percentage of older adults who wants to stay at home and “age in place,” you may be planning to stay put as long as possible with the goal of transferring your house to your heirs after you die.
Here is a review of the ways you can go about leaving your home to your children:
Perhaps the simplest way to do it is to leave the house to designated heirs in your will. After you die, the house will pass on to your named beneficiaries in probate. Your heirs will incur normal probate costs to administer the transfer, typically anywhere from 5 to 15 percent of the value. If more than one person inherits your home, they must decide jointly what to do with it. If one child wishes to keep the home while another wants his/her share of the proceeds, for example, the conflict could create an ongoing rift among siblings.
Other legal options, such as trusts, can reduce the costs and delays of probate. Establishing a trust can simplify the process, lower the cost of transferring assets to your heirs, and allow you to cover certain expenses upfront. A trust can also help reduce family conflict as the trustee can make decisions as to who gets the house versus equal assets or when the house must be sold.
What’s more, establishing an irrevocable trust can provide significant protection from creditors as well as claims made by otherwise interested parties, such as a child’s ex-spouse.
But talk with an estate-planning attorney before you set up a trust. There are significant differences in the cost, upkeep, and potential impact of creating an irrevocable trust versus a revocable trust. Once an irrevocable trust is signed, it cannot be amended or revoked. However, it can be drafted in a way that creates flexibility for unexpected changes in circumstances. Meanwhile, revocable trusts, which can be withdrawn, come with significant administrative burdens and do not provide protection from creditors.
A third option is to deed your home to a beneficiary using designations such as “Transfer on Death” (which is not recognized in all states) or “Joint Tenant with Right of Survivorship.” Be aware that the latter creates joint ownership conditions before your death, which means you lose full control over selling or refinancing the house. It can also subject your home to debts incurred by your co-owner.
Before you plan to leave your heirs your house or vacation home, talk to them and find out if they even want it. If they don’t have any intention of living in the property and don’t want the hassles of real estate management, it might make sense to sell it while you’re still alive. But if you want to continue living there, a will, a trust, or (sometimes) a carefully worded deed can be used to transfer the property to your heirs, who can then sell it and divide the proceeds after you die.
Have a conversation with your kids, evaluate your own needs, and then consult with an attorney who will help you determine which option best fits your goals and intent.