Q: Does this mean we simply have the beneficiary name added to the property deed with "TOD" after it?
The definitions indicate that "property" is basically anything owned. I'm understanding that to include one's home. Additional reading indicates that the transfer of ownership can be handle by including the beneficiary's name and POD, TOD, etc., allowing ownership control with the original owner, to be passed to the beneficiary on the owner's death. Thereby eliminating probate and additional inheritance taxes. Can TOD also be used for matured savings bonds?
A: Real property deeds do not have TOD beneficiary designations, but there are possible ways to re-deed the property to accomplish similar results (life estate deeds, or adding the name to the deed as joint tenant with right of survivorship, for example), but these methods grant an interest in the property to that person which can be undesirable, and also raise future tax consequences that are less desirable than other methods (e.g., simply leaving property by will, or by transferring the property into a living trust which has named beneficiaries so that the tax treatment is maximized in the beneficiary's favor). Savings bonds are issued instruments, and they do not generally have TOD or beneficiary designations printed on them, so I doubt that is an option for those. However, the types of assets with beneficiary or TOD designations include bank accounts, stock brokerage accounts, IRA's, other financial or investment accounts, life insurance, and generally any similar type of asset on deposit with or under control of a third party institution or administrator like a bank, brokerage or insurance company. These third party institutions have their own rules on whether their financial products (accounts) can be distributed upon death to a beneficiary, and what happens when no beneficiary is designated. Their rules govern how and whom you can name such a person. There is no law that grants you unilateral control to simply impose beneficiary designations over all your property and assets, except by way of your Will, or by transferring all your assets (re-titling those that can be titled) into a trust. Assets owned by a trust will be distributed outside of probate. For most people, probate is not that complicated or expensive, and a simple will is more than sufficient and much easier to manage. Transferring your home, bank accounts and other properties into a trust can be expensive, and cumbersome to manage acting as trustee, especially in the case of your home if you decide to refinance or sell it in the future (not insurmountable issues, just inconvenient). Consult a lawyer familiar with estate planning to go over what it is you wish to accomplish, your goals, and the persons to whom you would like to receive your estate, and learn the various options to achieve those ends and the pros and cons of each, before taking action.
A: Transferring by making sure everything has a beneficiary on title usually saves significant time, effort and expense so it is a great idea to explore. While Maryland probate fees are not terribly high, it is not uncommon for estate expenses to eat up 4-5% or more of the assets with expenses like Personal Representative commissions, appraisals, bond premiums and newspaper publications, etc. (with or without legal fees). Additionally it takes a MINIMUM of 6 months to wrap up an estate since that is the time for creditors to assert claims. Many estates take much longer than that to settle. All that said, in many situations a family saves many thousands of dollars and many months in this state by simply setting things up in advance. Researching the options in advance is prudent!
Revocable Trusts are sometimes oversold but they can be a good option when there are reasons for wanting to avoid probate but not wanting beneficiaries to have instant access (e.g., situations with blended families, irresponsible or young beneficiaries and/or co-beneficiaries who would not work well together).
TOD (sometimes called POD) accounts can usually easily transfer bank accounts (e.g., savings/checking). Many other types of investments (e.g., brokerage accounts, IRAs, etc.) have beneficiary designations.
It is usually a good idea to have a simple back-up will in case there is some asset for whom titling is missed or some additional money comes in (e.g., if the person died in a car accident and there is settlement money).
Maryland does not recognize a TOD deed per se but a competent real estate or estate planning attorney can prepare a life estate deed with powers (also called an enhanced life estate deed) which accomplishes the same purpose. My firm does these kinds of deeds regularly as do other attorneys in this state.
While not legal advice or a promise to represent, I hope that this answer helps.
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