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How is My Property Transferred at Death?

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When a person passes away, their assets don’t just disappear. These properties must be transferred to someone else, either through inheritance or as designated by the deceased. It’s crucial to understand the different ways this transfer occurs. The process not only provides clarity for the loved ones of the deceased but also helps in ensuring the assets reach the rightful recipients. This article will discuss the three primary ways property is transferred at death, and how you can prepare.

The Two Preferred Methods

Non-Probate Transfer Mechanisms

The first of the two easy methods involves setting up what professionals call non-probate transfer mechanisms. These mechanisms are designed to avoid the lengthy and often tedious probate process.

  • Beneficiary Deeds for Real Estate: This type of deed allows property owners to name a beneficiary who will inherit their real estate when they die, without the property going through probate.
  • Payable on Death Designations for Bank Accounts: Rather than jointly owning a bank account – which can bring about its own complications – a payable on death designation is a smarter choice. It ensures the designated person gets access to the funds after the original account holder’s death.
  • Transfer on Death Designations for Vehicles: Vehicle titles can also have transfer on death designations. These titles allow vehicles to be automatically transferred to the designated person upon the original owner’s passing.
  • Beneficiary Designations on Investment and Retirement Accounts: Like bank accounts and vehicles, investment and retirement accounts can also have beneficiary designations to ensure the assets are transferred smoothly and directly upon death.


The second method revolves around the establishment of a trust. A trust acts as a living entity that can own and manage property. When you establish a trust:

  • All assets and properties are titled in the trust’s name. Even after your passing, the trust doesn’t “die.”
  • The person you’ve appointed as the trustee will manage the trust. This can be extremely beneficial if, for instance, you have young children and want to ensure they’re taken care of after your death.
  • If your beneficiaries are adults and capable of handling their finances, the trustee can distribute the trust assets according to the conditions you’ve set in the trust document.

The Least Preferred Method: Probate

Property transferred at death can sometimes land in the probate court, especially if no estate planning has been done. Probate is the legal process wherein a deceased person’s estate is settled and their property distributed. While it might sound straightforward, the probate process is often seen as the least favorable method of property transfer because:

  1. It can be time-consuming and expensive.
  2. Personal family matters become public record.
  3. There can be disputes, leading to further delays.

Estate planning is therefore essential. While probate isn’t the end of the world, professionals usually recommend against it. By setting up the right mechanisms and plans, property transferred at death can be a seamless process, ensuring that loved ones face minimal stress during an already challenging time.


As we’ve explored, the process of transferring property after someone’s death can be easy or complicated, depending on the methods chosen. By opting for non-probate mechanisms or trusts, one can save their loved ones much stress and potential legal tangles. Estate planning is not just a financial exercise; it’s an act of care, ensuring that the transition of property is as smooth as possible. If you have questions or need assistance with your estate planning, please contact us for professional guidance.