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Transferring Real Estate Assets Without a Will

Individuals in Massachusetts whose only asset is real estate may wish to arrange to transfer the property to heirs without using a will. The disadvantage of a will is that it must go through probate, and the process can be costly, time-consuming and lacking in privacy.

While a will may be necessary in some cases, real estate can be transferred in other ways. One way is by creating a living trust. A living trust allows an individual to remain in control of the real estate while they are still alive and also makes it possible to add or remove beneficiaries. The title has to be changed to the name of the living trust.

Another possibility is creating a joint tenancy with all rights of survivorship, or if the beneficiary is an individual’s spouse, the title can include the spouse’s name and the property should be described as “tenancy by the entirety.” Individuals should note that changing the title gives the beneficiary rights to the property prior to the original owner’s death. Therefore, a beneficiary does have the power to take an action like forcing a sale.

Individuals may wish to consult an attorney who has experience with estate planning strategies when dealing with these types of issues. An attorney may be able to offer insight as to the advantages and disadvantages of wills, trusts and other approaches to ensuring that real and personal property is distributed to the intended beneficiaries after an individual’s death. For example, an individual might create a joint tenancy with his or her two children. However, the individual might later decide to change the beneficiary to only one of the children after the other moves across the country and buys a home there. An attorney may be helpful with changes of this nature.

Source: SF Gate, “How to Avoid Probate When Real Estate Is the Only Asset to Transfer?”, Joe Stone, accessed on Jan. 18, 2015

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