California State Assembly Passes Bill to Permit Transfer-on-Death Deeds for Real Estate

Law Firm Newswire



Fairfax, VA (Law Firm Newswire) May 13, 2015 – Enactment of the measure would allow residents to avoid probate on their property.

On April 9, California took a major step toward allowing transfer-on-death deeds for real estate. The state Assembly passed a bill to permit such deeds by a unanimous 73-0 vote. If approved by the state Senate and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the Golden State would become the 21st and largest state to legalize this estate-planning method for avoiding probate.

The measure, sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, would make so-called revocable transfer-on-death deeds available. These deeds would allow homeowners to pass their property, most often a house, to a chosen beneficiary upon death, bypassing the often costly, time-consuming process of probate. The deeds would work like the payable-upon-death forms already used to pass on assets like bank accounts, stock accounts or automobiles without going through probate.

The legislation, Assembly Bill 139, was introduced after the California Law Revision Commission recommended that the state adopt the more streamlined method. Californians can already transfer property to another individual while the transferring party is still alive.

“California is usually thought of as a trend-setting state, especially in new legislation — other states often follow California’s lead,” said Lisa McDevitt, a prominent attorney in Fairfax, Virginia, whose firm specializes in estate-planning law. “But in this case, 20 other states, including Virginia, beat them to it.”

Transfer-on-death deeds, also known as beneficiary deeds, are usually fairly easy to create, and the transferring party can change his or her mind at any point. There are alternative means of avoiding probate on real estate to similar effect, most notably through a living trust or a joint tenancy.

“It is always preferable for an individual to attend to estate planning as early as possible. If at all feasible, he or she should employ an estate plan that will not involve probate,” McDevitt said. “Transfer-on-death deeds, where they are legal, are a useful means of bypassing probate, and an attorney experienced in estate-planning law will be able to help create these and other documents.”

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