Estate Planning 101

Adding a House to a Trust in Virginia

In this blog post, we'll explore the ins and outs of adding a house to a trust in Virginia. We'll delve into the benefits and drawbacks, discuss the costs involved, and provide a clear, step-by-step guide on how to navigate the process. We'll also address key topics such as estate taxes, selling a house in a trust, dealing with mortgages, refinancing, and transferring out of a trust.
April 10, 2024

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Estate planning is an essential process that ensures your assets are protected and distributed according to your wishes after your death. One common strategy is to place your property, such as your home, into a trust. Trusts offer numerous benefits, including avoiding probate and maintaining privacy. However, the process of adding a house to a trust can seem daunting, especially without proper guidance. In Virginia, the law surrounding trusts and estate planning is specific, and understanding it is key to making the right decision.

Benefits and Drawbacks of Adding a House to a Trust in Virginia

Before deciding to add your house to a trust in Virginia, it's crucial to understand the benefits and potential drawbacks.


  1. Avoiding Probate: By placing your house in a trust, it can pass directly to your beneficiaries upon your death, bypassing the lengthy and often costly probate process.
  2. Privacy: Trusts are not public record, unlike wills, which means your estate details remain private.
  3. Control: Living trusts offer you control over your property while you're alive. You can also change or revoke the trust at any time.


  1. Upfront Costs: Setting up a trust can be more expensive upfront than creating a will. This is due to trusts being more complex legal documents and may require more legal assistance to establish.
  2. Maintenance: Trusts require ongoing management which could mean additional time and costs, especially if you hire a professional to manage the trust.
  3. Complexity: Trusts are more complex than wills. They require more effort to set up and manage, and you'll need to transfer the title of your house to the trust after it's set up.

The Process of Adding a House to a Trust in Virginia

The process of adding a house to a trust in Virginia involves several steps that are crucial to ensuring a smooth and legally sound process.

  1. Create a Trust: The first step is to create a trust document. This document outlines the terms of the trust, including beneficiaries and what happens to the property upon your death. You can create a trust using an online estate planning service like Snug or by working with an attorney.
  2. Property Appraisal: Before transferring your property into a trust, it may be beneficial to have it appraised to determine its current market value.
  3. Title Transfer: The next step involves transferring the title of your house to the trust. This is done by drafting a new deed with the name of the trust as the grantee. In Virginia, the deed must be signed in the presence of a notary public.
  4. Record the Deed: After the deed is signed and notarized, it should be recorded with the county clerk's office in the county where the property is located.
  5. Notify Your Mortgage Lender and Insurance Company: Finally, notify your mortgage lender and insurance company about the change in ownership.

Costs of Adding a House to a Trust in Virginia

The costs involved in adding a house to a trust in Virginia can vary based on several factors, including the complexity of the trust, the value of the property, and the attorney's fees if you choose to hire one.

  1. Legal Fees: The cost of setting up a trust can range anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, depending on whether you use an online service, a document preparation service, or hire an attorney to draft the trust. If you opt for an attorney, you can expect to pay an hourly rate, which can range from $200 to $500 per hour.
  2. Property Appraisal Fees: To determine the current market value of your home, you may need to hire a professional appraiser. The cost of a home appraisal in Virginia typically ranges between $300 and $400, but it can be higher for larger or more complex properties.
  3. Deed Preparation and Recording Fees: There will be a charge to prepare and record the new deed. Deed preparation costs can range from $100 to $250, and recording fees in Virginia are typically around $50, but this can vary by county.
  4. Mortgage and Insurance Considerations: If your house has a mortgage, you'll need to notify your lender that you're transferring the property to a trust. Depending on the lender, there may be a fee associated with this. Additionally, you'll need to inform your homeowner's insurance company about the transfer. Although this shouldn't result in additional costs, it's essential to ensure your property remains properly insured.

Estate Taxes in Virginia

Virginia is one of the few states that doesn't impose its own estate or inheritance tax. However, the federal government does impose an estate tax on estates exceeding a certain value, which for 2024, is $13.61 million for individuals and $27.22 million for married couples. Transferring your house to a trust does not exempt it from federal estate taxes. The property will still be considered part of your taxable estate. However, certain types of trusts, such as an irrevocable trust, can help reduce or even eliminate federal estate tax liability.

Selling a House in a Trust in Virginia

Selling a house in a trust is entirely possible and fairly straightforward, but the process can vary depending on the type of trust you have. If the trust is a revocable living trust, and you're the trustee, you can sell the property just as you would if the house were not in a trust – by listing it, finding a buyer, and closing the sale. The proceeds from the sale would then go into the trust. However, if you're not the trustee, or if the trust is irrevocable, things can be a little more complex. In this case, the trustee does have the power to sell the property, but they must always act in the best interests of the beneficiaries. The trustee would carry out the sale process and the sale proceeds would go into the trust for distribution according to the terms set out in the trust document. Selling a house from a trust might have tax implications. For example, in Virginia, the sale of a house is generally subject to the state's capital gains tax, unless the property is the seller's primary residence.

Adding a House with a Mortgage to a Trust in Virginia

If your house is still under a mortgage, you can still transfer a mortgaged house into a trust. In Virginia, lenders cannot call in loans or raise interest rates when a mortgaged property is transferred into a revocable living trust – this is protected under the Garn-St. Germain Depository Institutions Act of 1982. This means you can continue to live in the property and make your mortgage payments as usual, but the property is now part of the trust. However, it's crucial to inform your mortgage lender about the transfer. Failure to do so could potentially lead to complications down the line. Some lenders might request a copy of the trust agreement to verify that it is, indeed, a revocable trust and that you are the trustee and beneficiary. On the other hand, transferring a mortgaged property into an irrevocable trust can be more complex and may require the lender's approval. This is because the transfer could be viewed as a sale, which might trigger the due-on-sale clause in the mortgage agreement.

Refinancing a House in a Trust in Virginia

Refinancing a property held in a trust can be a bit more intricate than a standard refinance. However, it's certainly not impossible and can be done with proper guidance. Most lenders want to deal directly with the property owner. When a home is in a trust, the trust owns the property, and this can complicate the refinancing process. Lenders might be hesitant because of the perceived risk and the additional paperwork involved. However, this doesn't mean you can't refinance. Many homeowners with properties in a trust successfully refinance their homes. They typically have to temporarily remove the property from the trust, refinance the home, and then put it back into the trust. During this process, it's crucial to work with a lender experienced in dealing with trusts. They can guide you through the necessary steps and help ensure the trust's integrity remains intact. In Virginia, it's also paramount to inform your title insurance company about the refinance and ensure your title insurance remains valid during the process.

Transferring a House out of a Trust in Virginia

There may come a time when you wish to remove your house from a trust. The process for doing so will depend on the type of trust you have. If your house is in a revocable trust, the process is generally straightforward. As the trustee, you have the authority to transfer the property out of the trust. This involves preparing a new deed that transfers the property from the trust to your personal name or to a new owner. The deed must be signed, notarized, and then recorded with the county recorder's office. However, if your house is in an irrevocable trust, removing it can be more complex. This type of trust cannot be altered without the consent of the beneficiaries. Therefore, transferring a property out of this type of trust typically requires agreement from all parties involved and may require court approval. It's crucial to understand that transferring a property out of a trust can have tax implications and may affect your estate planning strategy.