Should my mom put my sister's name on the deed to her home?

3 answers | Last updated: Nov 28, 2016
A fellow caregiver asked...

My mom has eight more years left to pay on her house and she wants to leave it to my sister. Can she put my sister's name on the house now, so that when my mom passes, my sister can take over?

Expert Answers

Liza Hanks is the founder and owner of FamilyWorks Estate Planning, a law firm with offices in Campbell and Los Altos, California, and the author of The Busy Family's Guide to Estate Planning (Nolo, 2007).

Your mother could do that. But it may not be a great idea for a number of reasons.

First, if she puts your sister's name on the deed now, she'll actually be making a taxable gift of one-half the value of the house to her. She'll have to file a gift-tax return by April 15 of the year following the transfer. She won't have to pay any tax on the transfer if that half is worth less than a million dollars, but she still needs to report any gift of more than $12,000 to any one person in any one year.

Second, if your mother puts your sister's name on the house now, and your sister gets into any creditor problems, your mother's house is at risk.

Third, when your mother dies, your sister's half of the house will have your mother's original tax basis -- that is, the value used to calculate capital gains taxes upon the sale of the house. If your mother leaves the house to your sister in her will or trust, your sister will take title to the entire house at the value it had upon your mother's death. If the property is worth a lot more now than it was when your mom originally purchased it, this can make a big tax difference down the road.

Community Answers

Davey and goliath answered...

my father passed here recently and i had power of attorney but now thats no good. my name is on all his financial accounts but we never got a will or trust done. Can i do the paper work w/o an attorney to get my name on the property. i was also his beneficiary too.I dont have to worry about it being contest either. thanx

Daug-in-law answered...

Yikes, depending on your jurisdiction, I see all sorts of problems of changing the name on the title. Yes, the taxation issue is big (if a resident of the US) - not an issue if in Canada. However, there is the issue of marital property. You don't mention if your sister is married or common-law. You could be opening up a can of worms providing property rights to the 'bro-in-law' without intending to do so.

Davey and goliath, if there is no Will, you are not a beneficiary. However, you may be his sole survivor, making you his only heir. You need to have a least a 30 minute to 1 hour meeting with a lawyer. This will be well worth the money (and in some cases is complimentary). The lawyer will be able to tell you what you can and cannot do and lead you in the right direction. The lawyer is bound by ethics to tell you what you need to know, however, he/she can also point out the pitfalls of being a do-it-yourself lawyer. But if you go the DIY route, you need to do some research and understand the terminology before you go to the bank or try to change anything, or you will just be butting your head against the wall. Also, you don't mention your jurisdiction... different states/provinces have different laws.