How Does My Co-op Fit into My Estate Planning?

Parents bought a studio apartment in a New York City co-op for their adult son with special needs. He’s able to live independently with the support of an agency.

The couple asked the co-op board to let them transfer the property to an irrevocable trust, so when they die, the son will still have a place to live. However, the board denied their request.

An individual with special needs can’t inherit property directly, or he’ll no longer be able to receive the government benefits that support him. What should the parents do?

The New York Times’ recent article entitled “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?” explains that parents can leave a co-op apartment to their children in their will or in a trust. However, that doesn’t mean their heirs will necessarily wind up with the right to own or live in that apartment.

In most cases, a co-op board has wide discretion to approve or deny the transfer of the shares and the proprietary lease.

If the board denied the request, the apartment will be sold and the children receive the equity. Just because the will says, ‘I’m leaving it to my children,’ that doesn’t give the children the absolute right to acquire the shares or live there.

In some instances, the lease says a board won’t unreasonably withhold consent to transfer the apartment to a financially responsible family member. However, few, if any, leases extend that concept to include trusts.

The parents here could wait to have the situation resolved after their deaths, leaving clear directives to the executor of their estate about what to do should the board reject a request to transfer the property into a trust for their son. However, that leaves everyone in a precarious position, with years of uncertainty.

Another option is to sell the co-op now, put the proceeds in a special-needs trust and buy a condo through that trust. The son would then live there.

Unlike co-ops, condos generally allow transfers within estate planning, without requiring approval.

While this route would involve significant upheaval, the parents would have more peace of mind.

However, before buying the condo, an experienced estate planning attorney should review the building’s rules on transferring the unit.

Reference: New York Times (Oct. 1, 2022) “Can I Leave My Co-op to My Heirs?”