Estate Planning 101

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

January 11, 2024

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In the realm of estate planning, there are several tools available to ensure a smooth transition of assets upon death. One such tool is the "Transfer on Death" (TOD) provision. This comprehensive guide will shed light on TOD provisions under Washington law and how they operate.

Understanding Transfer on Death

A Transfer on Death (TOD) provision allows an asset owner to name a beneficiary who will inherit the asset upon the owner's death, bypassing the probate process. The asset could be a financial account, like a bank account or a stock portfolio, or a physical asset like a car or real estate. The beneficiary has no legal rights to the asset during the owner's lifetime. The asset only transfers to the beneficiary upon the owner's death, typically a quicker and more cost-efficient process than the traditional probate.

Transfer on Death vs. Joint Ownership

TOD provisions and joint ownership are both common methods of transferring assets, but they operate differently under Washington law. Joint ownership implies that two or more individuals hold an equal interest in a specific asset. In Washington, assets owned jointly usually pass directly to the surviving joint tenant upon the death of the other, avoiding probate. Conversely, a TOD provision allows an asset owner to designate a beneficiary who will receive the asset upon their death, also avoiding the probate process. The beneficiary does not hold any ownership interest in the asset until the owner's death.

Creditor Protections from Transfer on Death

In Washington, TOD provisions can offer a degree of protection from creditors. When an owner passes away with outstanding debts, creditors typically have a set period to stake their claim against the estate. However, assets transferred via TOD provisions bypass probate and are generally inaccessible to creditors unless they can establish a fraudulent transfer case.

Conflicts Between Your Will and TOD Provisions

Confusion may arise if a will and a TOD provision contradict each other. In Washington, a TOD provision usually supersedes a will. This means that if your will stipulates that an asset should go to a particular individual, but the TOD provision on the asset names a different person, the asset will transfer to the person named in the TOD provision.

Tax and Debt Implications of TOD

In Washington, assets transferred via TOD face the same estate tax rules as assets transferred through other means. Washington does impose a state estate tax, so both federal and state estate taxes may apply. As for debts, assets transferred via TOD provisions in Washington are typically protected from the deceased's debts, barring a successful fraudulent transfer case.

Real Estate and TOD in Washington

In Washington, 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 Washington, 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 Washington

A Lady Bird deed, also referred to 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 retains the right to sell, lease, or mortgage the property without the beneficiaries' consent. However, Lady Bird deeds are not recognized in Washington. Nonetheless, similar outcomes can often be achieved through the use of a revocable living trust or a TOD deed.

How to Establish a TOD Provision in Washington

Establishing a TOD provision in Washington often 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 recorder's office. Adherence to all pertinent rules and requirements is vital to avoid potential complications or disputes.

The Limitations of TOD Provisions

Despite the benefits that TOD provisions offer, they do have limitations. They do not allow for complex asset dispositions or provide detailed instructions, like a will or trust might do. If the beneficiary dies before the owner, the asset typically goes 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, as long as the owner is mentally competent. In Washington, this typically involves completing a form provided by the financial institution, or for real estate, recording a revocation form with the county recorder's office.

In conclusion, the laws governing TOD provisions in Washington are intricate and have significant implications. A deep understanding of these laws is crucial when planning your estate. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney is advisable to ensure your assets will be distributed according to your wishes.