What is a Lady Bird Deed?
Also known as an enhanced life estate deed or a ladybird deed, a Lady Bird Deed is a way to transfer property to someone else outside of probate. It allows the original owner to retain control of the property and pass it to exactly who he or she wants to after death. Essentially, the original owner, referred to as the grantor, signs a deed stating when he or she dies the person who the property is deeded to, referred to as the grantee, will automatically receive the property. In the meantime, the grantor has all right over the property including the ability to sell if he or she wants to.
The life estate retained by the original owner of the property is enhanced, meaning that the owner retains actual ownership of the property until death, and can change the deed, mortgage, or sell the property as desired during their lifetime without permission or involvement of the remainder beneficiaries. When the owner of the property dies, the property is automatically transferred to the new owner(s) listed on the ladybird deed. A house that transfers through a life estate deed completely avoids probate because it transfers at death, and therefore does not become a part of the Grantor’s estate.
Florida is one of only a handful of states that recognize a Lady Bird Deed.
Lady Bird Deed Advantages
A Lady Bird Deed has many advantages that should be considered, including:
- Ensures that the property passes to the person or people of the Grantor’s choosing by avoiding probate of the property.
- Grantor maintains the right to use and profit from the property for their lifetime, providing the Grantor with complete control of the property until they pass.
- Grantor maintains the right to sell, mortgage, or even execute a new lady bird deed to the property at any time, without having to obtain the permission or authorization of the grantee on the previously executed lady bird deed.
- Since Lady Bird Deeds are not considered a transfer of property and the property owner retains the right to use the property, the Lady Bird Deed typically does not affect or risk qualification for the Grantor’s Medicaid benefits.
- Prevents the property from being sold upon your death to repay the Medicaid benefits conferred upon the Grantor, because the property passes to the Grantee(s) upon the death of the Grantor and does not become an asset in the estate of the Grantor.
- You keep your homestead real estate tax exemption, and the county will not reassess the property to raise taxes.
- There are several tax benefits to a Lady Bird Deed, including the avoidance of filing a gift tax on the property transfer.
Many of the advantages of a transferring property under a living trust are similar to those achieved with a Lady Bird Deed. The advantage of the latter is that establishing a Lady Bird Deed is much less costly than creating a living trust.
The Lady Bird Deed and Medicaid
Medicaid is a government program that provides Florida residents with long-term health care coverage. Medicaid benefits are intended for people who can’t otherwise pay for their medical care. To apply for Florida Medicaid, the state’s Institutional Care Program, an individual must provide the Department of Children and Families with a detailed list of all assets.
The purpose is to ensure that all available financial resources are used to pay for care before Medicaid funds are used. The value of all qualifying assets, called countable assets, is calculated and used as the basis for creating a Medicaid eligibility waiting period.
If a time should come when you require long-term care and you apply for Medicaid, the government will impose a five-year “look back” period on your eligibility. This means you cannot transfer ownership of property within five years of making the application. The extent of your eligibility depends on the value of assets you own at the time you apply.
Less is more, and many people erroneously believe they can simply give property away before applying, however, transfers are subject to this five-year period, and assets given away during this time can be pulled back into the value of your estate. Because an enhanced life estate deed allows you to retain control over the property during your lifetime, it doesn’t qualify as a transfer until the death of the Grantor.
If you receive Medicaid benefits during your life, then after your death the State will make a claim for repayment from any assets in your estate. The State will not be able to make a claim against any property with a valid lady bird deed because the property doesn’t become part of the decedent’s estate. The property automatically transfers into the ownership of the Grantee listed on the lady bird deed.
Tax Planning and Benefits with a Lady Bird Deed
There are a few tax benefits for a Lady Bird Deed in Florida, such as avoidance of the Federal gift tax. The Lady Bird transfer is an incomplete gift, meaning there is no requirement to file a gift tax return. There has not been an effective transfer during the owner’s lifetime. Moreover, the Florida Department of Revenue assesses minimum documentary stamp taxes on Lady Bird Deed property transfers as long as the grantor of the deed is the same person who retains the life interest. This means that your documentary stamp taxes would only be based upon a sum of $10.00 consideration, instead of the value, or sales price of the home. This can potentially save your heirs a few thousand dollars. If the deeded property is a homestead, there will be no loss of homestead tax exemption and the county will not reassess the property to raise taxes.
In the state of Florida, it is also important to know that homestead or primary residence is exempt from creditors’ claims. Not only does a Lady Bird Deed protect this aspect of Homestead property and retain the homestead exemption, it can also potentially protect the property from a divorce settlement in certain cases. As the property remains Homestead it also retains the Homestead exemption for property tax as long as it is drafted appropriately.
While a Lady Bird Deed should not be a replacement for a full estate plan, it is a good place to start, and it often belongs as part of an estate plan unless your only heir is your spouse in which case Homestead passes directly to him or her in the event of death without the need for probate. Without this type of deed even a Homestead property will need a Judge to sign off on the transfer in a probate proceeding unless it is passing to your spouse who is still alive.
How was the Lady Bird Deed named?
You might be wondering how the Lady Bird Deed got its name. When the deed was created in Florida in the 1980s, the creator used President Lyndon Johnson’s family names in the example of how the deed works. President Johnson’s wife’s name was Lady Bird and from that example, the deed was named.
A lady bird deed, if done correctly, can be a very useful estate planning tool. There are many advantages of using a Lady Bird deed over other types of deeds. If you feel that this type of deed may be beneficial to you, would like more information or would like to discuss other possible options, please give The Orlando Law Group, PL a call at (407) 512-4394. The probate and estate planning team at The Orlando Law Group has this and many other strategies at its disposal to protect you and your family assets.
The attorneys at The Orlando Law Group represent individuals throughout Orlando, Waterford Lakes, Altamonte Springs, Winter Garden, Lake Nona, St. Cloud, Kissimmee, and throughout central Florida.
If you are dealing with a real estate or estate planning issue, are wondering if a reverse mortgage is right for you, or are looking to establish your own estate plan, please reach out to our office at 407-512-4394, or fill out our online contact form.
If you have questions about anything discussed in this article or other legal matters, give our office a call at 407-512-4394 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 12301 Lake Underhill Rd, Suite 213, Orlando, FL 32828, as well as offices in Seminole, Osceola and West Orange counties to assist you.
Last Updated on February 18, 2023 by The Orlando Law Group