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Can a Deceased Person's Name Be Left on the Title to Real Property?

by Fraser Sherman, studioD

When real estate changes hands, the title changes too. When a property owner dies, whoever inherits the land takes title under her own name. Registering a new deed with a new title can take time and money, but it has to be done. How the title passes depends on the deceased's will, and the form of ownership he held.

Right of Survivorship

If the deceased held title with someone else as joint tenants with a right of survivorship, his death transfers title to the other owner. The right of survivorship trumps any disposition of property in the will. Tenancy by the entirety -- a type of joint ownership available in some states for married couples -- works similarly. What the surviving owner does next depends on state law. Some states just require that the surviving owner file a copy of the death certificate. Others want the surviving owner to file a notarized affidavit of the death.

Inheritance Law

If the deceased was sole owner, or co-owned the property without right of survivorship, title passes according to his will. Whoever the will names as the beneficiary to the house inherits it, which requires filing a new deed confirming her title. If the deceased died intestate -- without a will -- state law takes over. Each state has guidelines for who inherits after someone dies intestate, but it's generally the closest surviving relatives, such as a spouse or children. The person who acquires the real estate will still have to file a new deed.

Living Trusts

Placing real estate in a revocable trust requires transferring title from the owner to the trustee, even if the owner is the trustee. Once the owner dies, the successor trustee transfers title from the trust to its beneficiary. If the trust is set up to manage property for, say, minor children, the trust retains title until they come of age. The exact rules for placing property into and out of trusts vary from state to state.

Filing the Title

Once the new owner's title to the property is clear -- after the will passes through probate, for instance -- it's time to file the paperwork. Depending on the circumstances, this may include a new deed, the death certificate or a statement from the probate court. The paperwork is filed with the registry of deeds or county recorder in whichever county the real estate sits. Fees typically run $10 to $15 for the first page and a little less for subsequent pages.

About the Author

A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.

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