How Can Parent Protect Rights After Transferring House to Child?

 In Asset Protection, Long-Term Care Planning, Real Estate

Photo by Aubrey Rose Odom on Unsplash


My mom is going to transfer the deed of her house to my name only, but she would like some kind of agreement that she can live in the house for as long as she lives, almost as a co-owner. Is there a document we can fill out to protect her rights?


There are a few options, including the following:

  1. Your mother could maintain a life estate in the property, giving her the right to live there for the rest of her life. This, in fact, supersedes your right to live there. It may give you and her certain tax benefits both while your mother is alive—a senior abatement on real estate taxes — and after she passes away — a step-up in basis.
  2. A right of use and occupancy. This would be a written document similar to a lease. It’s not quite as strong as a life estate, but does give your mother legal rights.
  3. A written agreement between you and your mother. While your mother likely would never enforce this in court, it provides you the opportunity to spell out your intentions regarding a number issues, such as who is going to pay for what and what happens if your mother becomes disabled or if you decide to move and sell the house. You also could have a written agreement covering these issues along with any of the other options.
  4. A trust would permit you and your mother to divide or share your rights to the house as you see fit.

As you can see, the options and the pros and cons of each can get complicated. I would recommend that you and your mother consult with an estate planning, elder law or real estate attorney on this. The attorney would want to know why your mother wants to transfer her home to you. What is she hoping to accomplish? I’d also want her to understand the risks — what happens if something bad happens to you — bankruptcy, illness, divorce, or death. Once the attorney understands your mother’s goals and your mother understands the options and risks, she can make a choice as to the best approach.

Related Articles:

Is a Life Estate a Good Way to Avoid Probate?

What are the Tax Consequences if I Transfer Real Estate into Trust?

Solution for Siblings Who Co-Own Real Estate Where One Wants to Live

Should We Sell Our Parents’ Home in a Life Estate?

Showing 2 comments
  • Mirjana Freilich

    My husband and I live in Massachusetts. He is 94 and I am 72 and have been married for over 40 years. As a retired professor, he has a retirement annuity (TIAA) which we live on and was intended to last through both our lifetimes. Our house is in my name, without a mortgage. We have wills, POA’s and Health Care Proxies but we do not have any of our assets in trust. This may be a problem, because my husband has recently been diagnosed with dementia and a couple of other health issues. I am currently his sole caregiver, and is it very manageable for me thus far. My fear is what will happen if he eventually needs nursing home care. I believe our retirement account is very vulnerable, as I suspect we will have to use that to pay for his care which can be a huge monthly hit likely to deplete his account. At this stage, is there anything I can do?

    • Harry Margolis

      Retirement accounts are very difficult to plan for especially if they are in the name of the spouse who is likely to need MassHealth (Medicaid) coverage. Investments in the name of the healthy spouse can often be protected by annuitizing them. And for non-retirement assets there’s no penalty if they are transferred from the ill spouse to the healthy spouse. In terms of MassHealth, there’s also no penalty for transferring retirement assets between spouses, but retirement assets must be liquidated prior to such a transfer which could mean a large income tax bill coming due.
      I recommend that you consult with a Massachusetts elder law attorney for few reasons. First, it may be possible to liquidate your husband’s account over several years in a way that keeps you from bumping up into a higher tax bracket. Second, TIAA is its own bird, so there may be other options that you would probably only be able to ferret out by having a conference call with the lawyer and someone at TIAA. Finally, other planning options may be available that you would only learn about by consulting with a local elder law attorney.
      Good luck.

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