Quit Claim Deeds - How to Avoid Probate

“Make it easier, faster, quicker, and cheaper.” “Just get it done.” “Why waste money on lawyers?” “It’s my money, isn’t it?” “I’ve already got it spent – hurry up already.” Most people really do feel entitled to their inheritance. They have put up with a lot of stuff from and for their parents and other family members over the years. Usually, they haven’t felt any particular benefit for doing so. And they have their own direction they want to go. Their ideas and plans have been put on hold for one reason or another, and they really do feel that if they could just collect their inheritance, they can “get over” – move on to a better situation all the way around.

“Probate assets” are things that are owned in just one person’s name alone when that person dies. No joint owner, no designated beneficiary or transferee on the title – whether it’s a bank account, stocks, or real estate. The probate process is the way we figure out who gets what after the owner dies. Sometimes this can be resolved with nothing more than a death certificate and a one-page Affidavit for Collection. At the other end of the table, it can take nearly as long to distribute as it did to acquire. Planning can make it a lot simpler, but sometimes really simple planning leads to really complicated results.

“Just sign this Quit Claim Deed, Mom. That will take care of everything.” Well, not really.

There can be a big difference in taxes the kids have to pay later; who has to pay for future nursing home expenses; who actually gets to share the family home; and whether that includes a former in-law. Take a look at “Searles v. Searles,” a Minnesota case you can Google. Mom deeded her house to her kids, reserving a life estate – the right to live there the rest of her life.

The problem was, that transfer took effect right then, so the kids became part owners right then. One of the kids got divorced later. His divorce decree didn’t specify that he kept his share in Mom’s house. This meant that his wife (who wasn’t mentioned on the deed) kept a share of her former husband’s rights to a share of his mother’s house.