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Avoiding Probate is Not the Only Consideration When Creating An Estate Plan

Joint ownershipWhile it’s true that adding your heirs to the deed to your home would avoid probate, is there a better plan?

In the event you decide to add your child as a joint tenant on your home, you’ll each have an equal ownership interest in the property. When one joint tenant dies, the other joint tenant owns the entire property. This is an option that has the advantage of allowing you to avoid probate. But is that the best you can do?

The biggest disadvantage of joint tenancy is that creditors can attach the tenant's property to satisfy a debt. In such a case, if a co-tenant defaults on his or her debts, the creditors can sue in a partition proceeding to have the property interests uncoupled so the property can be sold, even over the objections of the non-debtor owner(s). What’s more, without a creditor issue, one co-owner of the property can sue to partition the property and can force another owner to move out.

Joint tenancy can also impact the capital gains treatment of the property. When you give property to a child, the tax basis for the property is the same price for which you purchased the property.  However, inherited property receives a step up in basis. This means that the basis would be the current value of the property. When you pass, your child inherits your half of the property—one half of the property will receive a step up in basis. However, the tax basis of the gifted half of the property will be the same as the original purchase price. If your child sells the home after the parent dies, he or she would have to pay capital gains taxes on the difference between the tax basis and the selling price. To avoid this tax, the child must live in the house for at least two years before selling it. When that happens, he or she can exclude up to $250,000 ($500,000 for a couple) of capital gains from taxes.

Revocable Trust

If you place the property in a revocable trust and name yourself as the beneficiary and your child as the beneficiary after you die, the property will go to your child without going through probate when you pass away. A trust will also be able to guarantee you the right to live in the house and take into account changes in circumstances, like if your child passes away before you do.

One other important benefit of a trust pertains to capital gains taxes. The tax basis of property in a revocable trust is stepped up when you die. This means the basis in the home would be the date of death value of the property. Therefore, if your child sells the property immediately after inheriting it, the value of the property would not see much change. As a result, the capital gains taxes would be little or nothing.

A trust typically allows for greater flexibility and offers more options to protect both the parent and the child. Everyone’s situation is different. We can help you pass down your property effectively.  Give us a call at 757.259.0707 or "request a consultation" online.  

Reference: elderlawanswers.com (February 27, 2017) “Is It Better to Use Joint Ownership or a Trust to Pass Down a Home?

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