Estate Planning 101

Transfer on Death in Michigan: How it Works and What You Need to Know | Snug

January 11, 2024

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Estate planning is a critical process that ensures the smooth transition of your assets after your death. One method that simplifies this process is the "Transfer on Death" (TOD) provision. This article delves into the specifics of TOD provisions under Michigan law.

Understanding Transfer on Death

A Transfer on Death (TOD) provision allows an individual to name a beneficiary who will inherit specific assets upon the individual's death, bypassing the probate process. Such assets can include financial accounts like bank accounts or stock portfolios and physical assets like vehicles or real estate.

The beneficiary has no legal rights to the asset during the owner's lifetime. The asset is only transferred to the beneficiary upon the owner's death. This transfer process is usually quicker and more cost-effective than probate, as it does not involve court proceedings.

Transfer on Death vs. Joint Ownership

Both TOD provisions and joint ownership are common methods of transferring assets in Michigan, but they function differently. Joint ownership implies that two or more individuals share an equal interest in an asset, such as a home or bank account.

In Michigan, assets owned jointly typically pass directly to the surviving joint owner upon the other's death, bypassing probate.

On the other hand, a TOD provision enables an asset owner to designate a beneficiary who will receive the asset upon their death, also avoiding the probate process. Unlike joint ownership, the beneficiary does not hold any ownership interest in the asset until the owner's death.

Creditor Protections from Transfer on Death

Michigan law provides some protection from creditors through TOD provisions. When an individual dies with outstanding debts, creditors generally have a specific period to stake their claim against the estate.

However, assets transferred via TOD provisions bypass probate and are typically not accessible to creditors unless they can prove a fraudulent transfer.

Conflicts Between Your Will and TOD Provisions

Sometimes, TOD provisions can conflict with the directives of a will. In Michigan, a TOD provision generally supersedes a will. So if a will directs that an asset should go to one person, but the TOD provision on the asset names someone else, the asset will transfer to the person named in the TOD provision.

Tax and Debt Implications of TOD

Tax implications are an essential aspect of implementing TOD provisions. In Michigan, assets transferred via TOD are subject to the same estate tax rules as assets transferred through other means. Michigan does not impose a state estate tax, so only federal estate taxes apply.

As for debts, assets transferred via TOD provisions are usually protected from the deceased's debts, unless a proven case of fraudulent transfer exists.

Real Estate and TOD in Michigan

In Michigan, real estate can be transferred via a TOD deed, also known as a beneficiary deed. This deed allows a property owner to designate a beneficiary who will automatically inherit the property upon the owner's death, avoiding probate.

This tool is particularly beneficial for homeowners in Michigan, offering a way to ensure a seamless transition of their property without the time and costs associated with the probate process.

The Validity of Lady Bird Deeds in Michigan

A Lady Bird deed, also known as an enhanced life estate deed, is a legal document that allows an individual to pass property to beneficiaries while retaining a life estate in the property. The individual also maintains the right to sell, lease, or mortgage the property without the beneficiaries' consent.

In Michigan, Lady Bird deeds are recognized and can be a useful tool in estate planning. However, it's important to consider other options, such as a TOD deed or a revocable living trust, to achieve similar outcomes.

How to Establish a TOD Provision in Michigan

Establishing a TOD provision in Michigan typically involves filling out a form provided by the financial institution that holds your assets. For real estate, a TOD deed must be filled out and recorded with the county register of deeds. It's essential to adhere to all rules and requirements to avoid potential complications or disputes.

The Limitations of TOD Provisions

While TOD provisions offer many benefits, they do have limitations. They do not allow for complex asset dispositions or provide detailed instructions, as a will or trust might.

Also, if the beneficiary predeceases the owner, the asset will usually go through probate unless a contingent beneficiary is named.

Revoking a TOD Provision

TOD provisions can be revoked or changed at any time during the owner's life, provided the owner is mentally competent.

In Michigan, this typically involves completing a form provided by the financial institution, or for real estate, recording a revocation form with the county register of deeds.

In conclusion, understanding the laws governing TOD provisions in Michigan is critical when planning your estate. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is advisable to ensure your assets will be distributed according to your wishes.