My husband has a very close relative who has just been diagnosed with bone cancer. The dreaded "C" word causes everyone's skin to crawl, but it also gives the victim a heads up to get their personal effects in order. . . just in case.
Several years ago my husband and I sought the services of an attorney and set up a living trust. A living trust is not an option for everyone, but in our case, it was the best fit. With a living trust, we do not personally own any of our properties; the trust does. My husband and I are only the trustees of the trust. When one of us dies, the trust continues to own the property and the appointed trustee takes over the deceased's role as trustee. This system is used to avoid probate court upon death.
However, as I mentioned, this plan may not be for everyone. When property is owned by a trust, the property continues to appreciate from the value of the original purchase. That means that when the first trustees die, the beneficiary trustees will take over the management of the trust but the property does not change hands in the eyes of the law. When an investment property changes ownership (i.e., when children inherit the property), a new base value is determined for tax purposes based on the current property value. Because the property in a trust does not change ownership upon death of the trustees, it continues to appreciate in value from the original purchase price. At the time the trustees decide to sell the property, the trust will pay a larger capital gain because the value was not reevaluated at the time of the first trustees' death.
One of the primary reasons we chose a living trust is so our children would not have to liquidate our assets upon our death. By providing the framework for them to "take charge" of the real estate, it gives them control rather than the courts. It also gives them the freedom to wait a few months and then sell, or hold the property as rental and generate income. With either option, they will be able to choose rather than a stranger choosing for them.