Do Unrecorded Deeds Help or Hurt Estate Planning?

Using an unrecorded deed to transfer property without probate sounds like an easy way to transfer ownership of the family home, but is it asking for trouble? That’s the topic of an article from NWI Times entitled, “Estate Planning: Are unrecorded deeds a good idea?” The fact that the idea came from a family’s attorney makes the question even more important. The attorney told the parents the children could record the deed after their deaths and transfer the property without probate.

Most estate planning attorneys haven’t seen this technique used in a long time, and some may never have heard of it. There’s probably a good reason for this—it’s an estate mess waiting to happen.

First of all, what if the deed itself goes missing? One of the most common questions estate planning attorneys hear is “What do I do because Mom lost the_____?” Fill in the blanks—the deed, the title to the car, the bank statement, etc. Important documents often get lost. If a deed is missing and can’t be recorded, title can’t be transferred. Hoping an important piece of paper doesn’t get lost is not an estate plan.

Until the deed is recorded, and title transferred, the holders of the title still own the property. They can mortgage the property or sell it. The plan for the children to receive and record the deed may not have legal authority.

Laws about how deeds must be created change. Indiana made a change to the law in 2020 that required signatures on deeds to be witnessed. Without the witness, the deeds can’t be recorded. If the adult child is holding a deed for the recording and it’s not witnessed because the parents have died, it can’t be recorded.

There are better ways to transfer ownership of the family home that adhere to the general principles of estate planning.

There are also different types of deeds that are more commonly used in estate planning to transfer home ownership without going through probate. One is a Transfer on Death Deed (TOD Deeds). A TOD deed allows a person to name beneficiaries on their real estate property without giving up any rights of ownership. The TOD deed is recorded, so there’s no worry about mom or pop losing the paperwork.  The TOD deed can also be changed by recording another deed or using an affidavit.

Trusts can also be used to transfer home ownership and keep the transaction out of probate. An estate planning attorney will be able to explain the different types of trusts used to transfer a home. State laws vary, and allowable trusts vary, so talking with a local estate planning attorney is the best option.

Reference: NWI Times (May23, 2021) “Estate Planning: Are unrecorded deeds a good idea?”

Can You Protect Your Home If You Need Medicaid?

Anyone who owns a home, whether a magnificent mansion or a modest ranch, worries about the possibility of losing the home because of long-term care. How can they keep the home for their spouse or even for their family, if they need to apply to Medicaid for long-term nursing care costs?

The problem, reports The Mercury in a recent article “Protecting your house and Medicaid” is often the strategies that people come up with on their own. They usually don’t work.

The first thought of someone who is confronted with the need to qualify for Medicaid is to immediately transfer ownership of the family home to another person. The idea is to take the home out of their countable assets. But unless the person who receives the house is an adult child, that transfer only leads to problems.

Medicaid’s basic premise is that if you can afford to pay for your own care, you should. Transfer of a home, let’s say one with a value of $400,000, means that a $400,000 gift has been given to someone. There is a five-year lookback period. Any assets given away or transferred in that five-year period means that you had the asset under your control. Medicaid will not pay for your care in that case.

There are some exceptions to the gifting rules, but this is not something to be navigated without the help of an experienced elder law estate planning attorney. Here are the exceptions:

Your spouse. It’s understood that your spouse needs a place to live, and a transfer of the home to your spouse does not result in penalties under Medicaid rules. This usually means transfer from title as joint tenants with rights of survivorship or tenants by the entireties to the healthier wife or husband. It is also understood that a transfer to your spouse at home is not a disqualifying transfer. This is a common practice and part of Medicaid planning.

A disabled child. A parent may transfer a house to their disabled child on the theory that it is needed for self-support. It is not necessary for a child to lose a home, because a parent will be on Medicaid. This is a common mistake, and completely avoidable. Talk with an elder law attorney to learn more.

If a child is a caretaker. An adult child who moves in with the parents for a period of at least two years to care for them so they could stay at home and avoid going to a nursing home, or if the child has lived with their parents for longer than that and they need this care at home, under federal law the home can be transferred to the child without penalty and the parent can go to a nursing home and receive care under Medicaid. This is another very common mistake that causes adult children to be left without a home.

For a person who is single or a widow or widower who will never move home after moving into a Medicaid certified nursing home, the house may be sold, and planning can be done with the proceeds of the sale. Paying bills to maintain a vacant home for no reason and having the government take the home as a creditor through the estate recovery program does not make sense. An elder lawyer estate planning attorney can help navigate this complex and often overwhelming process.

Reference: The Mercury (July 31, 2019) “Protecting your house and Medicaid”