Q&A: Transfer-on-death deed

Dear Liz: Having been through the probate process several times in California and Nevada, I can say it stinks. It’s expensive and occurs at a time when family is most stressed and saddened after having lost a loved one. Although estate planning and revocable trusts seem to be all the rage, I’d like to recommend another path: transfer-on-death deeds for real estate. They are available online via the county. It avoids a complicated probate, is far simpler than a living trust and still gives the family the benefit of a stepped-up tax basis on the property.

Answer: Probate isn’t always a nightmare. Some states have adopted reforms that make the process less expensive and protracted. Even in states with notoriously slow and expensive probate, such as California, there are typically rules that allow small estates to bypass most of the red tape.

Because of the rising value of real estate, however, simply owning a home can be enough to trigger probate even when the deceased has few or no other assets. Thus, many states now offer the option of transfer-on-death deeds for real estate, and they can be a good solution for people who don’t own much other than a home.