How To Add a Name to Your Deed

The Type of Deed You Create Can Make a Big Difference

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Owning property jointly with your children or another beneficiary is a common method used to avoid probate. The idea is that they'll inherit the property from you automatically because they already "own" your property. It doesn't become part of your probate estate because it passes directly to them by operation of law when you're no longer alive to co-own the property with them. This can be an effective option if avoiding probate of your estate is your primary goal.

Prepare a New Deed To Avoid Probate

Ideally, you won't just "add" your child's name to your existing deed. Instead, you'll create a new deed with a group of owners, perhaps you, your spouse, and your child. You'll become joint tenants with rights of survivorship.

If you simply add your child's name to your existing deed, they won't necessarily have rights of survivorship. They won't automatically inherit your share of the property when you die. Adding the name only gives them an ownership interest in the house both currently and in the future, while your ownership interest would still be subject to probate. 

Creating a whole new deed with rights of survivorship sidesteps this problem. "Survivorship" means that when one owner dies, their share of the property shifts by law to the owner or owners who survive them.

Consider Using an Attorney

You can purchase the appropriate software or a deed form from any office supply store or legal website to create a joint tenancy deed, but consider working with a local estate planning attorney or a real estate attorney instead.

One wrong or a missing word on your joint tenancy deed can lead to probate of the property. 

State laws can be very specific about how a deed must be worded to create rights of survivorship, and these forms and software aren't always state-specific.

Beneficiary Deeds

A beneficiary deed, also sometimes called a transfer-on-death deed, might be an alternative to creating a deed with rights of survivorship if you live in a state that recognizes these instruments. About half of all states do, as well as Washington D.C. The issue is not necessarily where you live—it might be a second or vacation home. The laws of the state where the property is physically located are those that prevail.

You're not adding your child as a new property owner during your lifetime with this type of deed. Rather, they would receive your property only at your death. A deed with survivorship rights can help you avoid many potential problems that might crop up if you share ownership with them while you're alive.

You—or Your Estate—Might Owe Taxes

When you give anyone any money or property that exceeds a certain amount in value, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says it's a taxable gift. That amount is $16,000 or more for tax year 2022. This includes creating a new deed that gives your child a current ownership interest in your home, assuming they don't pay you fair market value in exchange.

File a federal gift tax return on IRS Form 709 to report the gift to the IRS if the share of the property is valued at more than $16,000 and you gift it in 2022. This value may change year to year.

The balance over $16,000 would be taxable—to you, not the recipient of the gift. This limit is called the annual gift tax exclusion, and it's indexed for inflation so it may increase each year. But a lifetime gift tax exemption is available as well. This exemption lets you avoid paying any gift tax on the transfer.

The Unified Tax Credit

The gift tax and the estate tax share the same lifetime exemption—they're "unified." If you give away a lot of expensive property during your lifetime, filing Form 709 each time effectively shifts the balance over the annual exemption amount each year to your lifetime exemption.

Ultimately, this approach leaves less of an estate tax exemption to shelter your remaining assets from estate taxes when you die. But, because the same credit shelters both the gift and your estate, that's somewhat moot.

That said, here's a bit of good news: The lifetime gift tax/estate tax exemption is $12.06 million per person in 2022. If you don't have assets that total to that amount, you should be safe from owing taxes on gifts in your lifetime.

Most people will not trigger estate taxes when they leave an estate to their heirs because of the high exemption.

That's a lot of property. If you're able to use a beneficiary deed, the estate tax involved with transferring the property that way would be covered by the same lifetime exemption. Keep in mind that any assets that escape probate contribute to your taxable estate. 

Capital Gains Tax Issues

Your child will receive a step-up in the tax basis of the home if it passes to them when you die, either through probate or via a beneficiary deed. A step-up in basis minimizes any capital gains tax they would have to pay if they decided to sell the property for more than you paid for it.

Capital gains tax is assessed on the difference between the initial purchase price and the property's sales price. The "step-up" moves the home's value up to what it was worth on the date of your death, not the price you paid when you bought it.

If you've owned the property for a considerable time, the stepped-up basis is probably significantly more than what you paid for it, which is a good thing. It means there will be less of a difference between the purchase and sales price—meaning what they may owe in capital gains taxes. 

The home will not receive a step-up in basis after your death if you create a joint tenancy with your child by making a new deed during your lifetime. They would have to inherit the home instead. This means your child would owe capital gains taxes based on what the property was worth when you initially bought it.

Potential Problems With Joint Tenancies

You won't be able to sell the property, refinance the mortgage, or take out a new mortgage without your child's consent if you give them partial ownership in a joint tenancy deed. These actions require the consent of all owners.

Your child could also legally sell their interest in the property to a third party, perhaps to a stranger, without your consent if you don't word the deed correctly. 

If your child ends up with a tax lien, creditor problems, or in divorce court, the government, creditors, or their ex-spouse could claim your child's ownership share of the home in a joint tenancy situation. In that situation, the entity can place a lien on your property and attempt to force its sale to collect on its debt. 

You'll also make a transfer of an asset that will delay Medicaid eligibility if you apply for assistance within five years after creating a joint tenancy deed. You've effectively given a portion of your property away, which can affect the timing of eligibility.

Should You Add Someone to Your Deed?

Although you can avoid many of these problems by using a beneficiary deed, the option to do so might not be available where you live. Creating a joint tenancy deed with your child instead can be tricky business, so you might want to consult with an experienced attorney to weigh the unique pros and cons involved in your particular situation. 

Whichever option you use, it's not just a matter of drawing up a new deed, signing it, and sticking it in your desk drawer or safe deposit box. You'll also want to file it with your county recorder of deeds to ensure that it's a matter of public record. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How do you add a name to a house deed?

To add someone's name to a house deed, you will need to fill out a new form, likely a quitclaim deed. This allows you to pass some of the ownership to another person. You'll likely need to get the document notarized and will need to file it with your county's recorder office. A real estate lawyer can help if you need it. You may also need to pay a fee to file the new house deed.

Do you need to pay a transfer tax on a title deed when adding a name?

Transfer taxes will depend on where you live and if the transfer of the deed is a sale, such as if you were selling your home. If you're adding a name to a deed, but not selling the home to this other person (you're simply transferring some of the ownership), you may be exempt from paying a transfer tax. If you're not sure, consult a real estate lawyer and/or your county or state's recorder of deed's office.

Article Sources

  1. North Carolina General Assembly. "Article 6. Joint Tenancy." Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.

  2. Internal Revenue Service. "What's New - Estate and Gift Tax." Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.

  3. Internal Revenue Service. "Estate Tax." Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.

  4. Internal Revenue Service. "Gifts & Inheritances." Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.

  5. Centers for Medicaid & Medicare Services. "Important Facts for State Policymakers Deficit Reduction Act." Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.

  6. Washoe County, Nevada. "How Do I Add Someone to the Title of My Property?" Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.

  7. Lake County, Illinois. "Understanding Real Estate Transfer Taxes in Lake County." Accessed Jan. 20, 2022.