How do I put Mom's house in my name?

A fellow caregiver asked...

What is the best way to put Mom's home in my name without it costing a lot? She is 90.

Expert Answer

There is no one best way to put your mom's home in your name. First, the question is why you, and she, want to do this.

Is the reason to enable your mother to reduce the value of her assets to a sufficiently low level so that she qualifies for federal-aid programs? If that's the reason, federal law requires that assets be transferred at least five years before applying for the aid.

Is the reason that your mother wants you to inherit the house eventually, so wants you to own the house before she dies? Is the reason for that to avoid probate of the house? Probate is the complicated and expensive court process required for property left by a will. It is definitely desirable to avoid probate, and there are various methods for accomplishing that.

Your mother could give you the house"”transfer her home ownership to you"”by using a simple deed. But there are drawbacks to this. * Legally, your mom would be required to file a federal gift tax return. She wouldn't actually have to pay any taxes now (unless her interest in the house was worth more than $3.5 million), but preparing the tax return is a hassle. * There might be a property tax reappraisal of the property, depending on which state your mom lives in. * Your "basis" in the house would be the same as your mom's. The basis of property is the value used to determine value or loss when that property is sold. To simplify some, if you buy a house for $300,000, that is your basis. Your mom's basis for her house is, roughly, the original cost of it, plus the value of any improvements. Inherited property gets a "stepped-up" basis to its market value at the death of owner. This stepped-up basis is very desirable for the inheritor"”you. Let's say your mother's basis in her house is $125,000, and when she dies the house is worth $425,000. If you inherit the house and then sell

it for $425,000, there is no capital gains tax. But if she had given you the house before she died, so that its basis to you was $125,000, and you sold the house for $425,00, you would have to pay capital gains tax on the $300,000 profit.

To avoid probate here, I suggest that your mother prepare a basic living trust for the house. Using a trust, the house will receive a stepped-up basis on your mother's death.