The Benefits of Beneficiary Deeds in Missouri

One of the most common instruments I prepare for clients is a Beneficiary Deed.

What exactly is a Beneficiary Deed?
A Beneficiary Deed, allows an owner of real estate to execute a deed that names a beneficiary who will own the property after the death of the owner without going through probate.

During the owner’s lifetime, the owner retains full power and control over the property. The Beneficiary Deed must be recorded before the death of the owner to have effect. The property owner can make changes to a Beneficiary Deed at any time by recording a subsequent Beneficiary deed.

For example, John owns a primary residence in Missouri. John wants his son to inherit the residence if he dies. John signs and records a Beneficiary Deed, effective upon his death, naming the son as beneficiary. When John dies, assuming he still owns the home, the son has to only record a death certificate and the property is his. During John’s lifetime, the son has no rights to the property. John may sell the property without permission of his son.

Greystone Ridge prior to development. Cape Girardeau County, Missouri.

Benefits of using Beneficiary Deed:
The primary reason for using a Beneficiary Deed is to avoid Probate after the death of the owner. Probate is a court-supervised process and hence is complex, time consuming and expensive. The Probate process usually takes 6 months and costs much more than executing a Beneficiary Deed.

A Beneficiary Deed allows the owner to retain/enjoy full ownership of the property until death.

Revision or changes to a Beneficiary Deed can be made easily through revocation or subsequent filing.

There is no consideration needed when creating a Beneficiary Deed.

Beneficiary Deeds may reduce future tax burdens by taking advantage of a “step-up” in basis.
Why choose a Beneficiary Deed instead of a Joint Deed?
Some people file a Joint Deed to add heirs to the property. Doing so has a few pitfalls. For Example, Mary owns a property that she bought for $200,000 which is now worth $400,000. Mary adds her daughter on the deed as a joint tenant. Now the daughter owns a portion of the house. Mary can’t sell the property without the daughter’s consent/signature. If Mary had owned the house in her own name and sold the house there would be no income tax. Now since she owns the house jointly with her daughter, the daughter could also be liable to State/Federal taxes. Also if the daughter has any debt/bankruptcy, lawsuits, or judgments against her, the creditor can file a lien or force the sale of the house. This can be avoided by filing a Beneficiary Deed naming the daughter as the Beneficiary. The property transfers to the daughter only upon the death of the mother.
A Beneficiary Deed does not act as a cloud on title when selling the home to a third party.

Missouri is one of a handful of states in the country where a Beneficiary Deed can be executed and it has become an easy and convenient estate planning tool for clients. A beneficiary deed is an easy and cost effective way to avoid probate. So when utilized correctly Beneficiary Deeds offer the owner of real estate one of the easiest, most beneficial ways of transferring property to a specified beneficiary outside of probate or a trust.

In Missouri, a Last Will and Testament Leads to Probate

Often I have clients schedule an initial consultation to discuss having a Last Will and Testament drafted for them. While I am happy to do this for clients, upon further discussion, most clients realize that what they actually want is something different than a Will.

Last Will and Testament image

A Will is great for nominating guardians for minor children. Having a Will is also far better than passing away intestate (that is, without a Will) where default Missouri law controls the management and distribution of your estate rather than it being distributed according to your desires.

Yet, a Will often leads to Probate Court. This is the very thing that most of my clients want to avoid. After all, probate court (1) costs money, (2) consumes your loved one’s time, (3) leaves some decisions up to the local probate judge, and (4) is a matter of public record.

A much better plan is to avoid probate. And in most situations, in Missouri, avoiding probate is not that difficult to do. Clients can avoid probate by using all or some combination of the following:
1. a Revocable Living Trust (RLT) agreement,
2. a Beneficiary Deed for Missouri real estate,
3. a Gift Deed for personal property,
4. Payable on Death provisions for bank accounts,
5. Transfer on Death provisions for vehicles and boats, and
6. Beneficiary Designations for retirement and financial accounts.

Might it cost a little bit of money now to avoid probate later? Probably. Yet, avoiding planning now is being penny wise and pound foolish. One great thing about estate planning is the peace of mind it brings to my clients, that their affairs are in order and their wishes will be carried out.