Probate Protection: Ladybird Deed Vs. Trust

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Real Estate

When planning for the distribution of assets after your passing, there are several estate planning tools available to help minimize the tax burden on your loved ones. Two commonly used tools are the ladybird deed and the trust. While both can serve as tax shelters in a probate situation, they have distinct differences that make them more suitable for different types of assets and situations.

What is a Ladybird Deed?

A ladybird deed, also known as an enhanced life estate deed or a transfer-on-death deed, is a legal document that allows you to transfer real estate to your designated beneficiary upon your death without the need for probate. With a ladybird deed, you retain ownership of the property during your lifetime, and you can sell, mortgage or transfer it as you wish.

However, upon your death, the property passes automatically to your designated beneficiary without the need for probate. Additionally, the beneficiary inherits the property with a stepped-up basis, which means that the beneficiary's cost basis in the property is equal to the fair market value at the time of your death. This can be advantageous if the property has appreciated in value, as it can help reduce the capital gains tax owed when the property is eventually sold.

What is a Trust?

A trust is a legal arrangement where you transfer ownership of your assets to a trustee to manage on behalf of your beneficiaries. There are several types of trusts, but they can generally be categorized as revocable or irrevocable.

A revocable trust, also known as a living trust, can be changed or revoked at any time during your lifetime. With a revocable trust, you retain control of the assets in the trust, and you can continue to use and enjoy them as you wish. Upon your death, the assets in the trust pass to your designated beneficiaries without the need for probate.

An irrevocable trust, on the other hand, cannot be changed or revoked once it is established. With an irrevocable trust, you transfer ownership of your assets to the trust, and you no longer have control over them. However, an irrevocable trust can provide several benefits, such as asset protection, tax savings, and Medicaid eligibility.

Ladybird Deed vs. Trust: Which is Better for Tax Planning in a Probate Situation?

When it comes to tax planning in a probate situation, both ladybird deeds and trusts can be effective tools. However, their suitability depends on several factors, such as the type of asset being transferred, the size of the estate, and the goals of the estate plan.

For example, a ladybird deed may be more suitable for a single asset, such as a family home, where the primary goal is to avoid probate and transfer ownership to a designated beneficiary with a stepped-up basis. On the other hand, a trust may be more suitable for a larger estate with multiple assets, where the primary goal is to provide asset protection, minimize taxes, and distribute assets over time.

In addition, trusts can offer greater flexibility in terms of managing assets during your lifetime and after your death. With a trust, you can specify how your assets are managed and distributed to your beneficiaries, and you can also provide for contingencies, such as incapacity or changes in circumstances.


In summary, ladybird deeds and trusts are both effective tax planning tools in a probate situation, but their suitability depends on the specific circumstances of your estate plan. It is important to consult with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine which tool is best for your situation and to ensure that your estate plan is comprehensive and meets your goals.


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