How to Change a Real Estate Deed After the Owner Dies

by Joe Stone

    Changing title to a real estate deed after the owner dies typically occurs in one of three ways. If the property was in the deceased owner’s living trust, the successor trustee prepares and records the appropriate transfer deed. If the deed includes the name of a co-owner with survivorship rights, such as joint tenancy, the surviving joint tenant prepares and records the required transfer deed. If neither of the foregoing situations applies, the deceased owner’s estate must be probated. The laws of the state where the real estate is located will also determine how to change the deed.

    Step 1

    Search for the deceased owner's living trust and will. The existence of either of these documents will affect the steps you take to change the real estate deed for a deceased owner's property.

    Step 2

    Obtain multiple certified copies of the deceased owner's death certificate. The real estate transfer procedures used in many states require that a certified death certificate be included with any other document required to change a real estate deed.

    Step 3

    Prepare an "Affidavit - Death of Trustee" form for the successor trustee to sign, if title to the real estate was in the name of the trust. A pre-printed form suitable for recording can be obtained from the local county recording office or website, such as in San Bernardino County, California. After the affidavit is recorded, the successor trustee can prepare and record a trust transfer grant deed that changes title to the property from the deceased owner's trust to the name or names of the beneficiaries of the property named in the trust.

    Step 4

    Prepare an "Affidavit of Death of Joint Tenant" form for the surviving joint tenant to sign, if title to the property indicated that it was co-owned with the deceased owner as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. This affidavit is commonly used and a pre-printed form can be obtained from a title company located in the state where the property is located. The surviving joint tenant records the affidavit with the local recording government office to complete the title change.

    Step 5

    File a petition to probate the deceased owner's estate in the local county court where the property is located, if the deceased owner did not have the property in a trust or titled as a joint tenancy. The precise procedures and length of time required to probate an estate vary greatly by state. However, the court makes a final order that states the change in the real estate deed from the deceased owner's name to the name or names of the appropriate beneficiaries. A certified copy of this order is recorded in the local county public real estate records.

    Tips

    • Depending on state law, a successor trustee may have to notify all potential trust beneficiaries of his acceptance of the duties of trustee before taking any action to transfer trust assets, such as in Arizona.
    • If the value of the deceased owner's estate was below a certain dollar amount, some states have simplified procedures for transferring property in the probate court, rather than going through a formal probate of the estate. For example, Oregon law provides a simplified affidavit procedure for transferring real property if it is valued at $200,000 or less.

    About the Author

    Joe Stone is a freelance writer in California who has been writing professionally since 2005. His articles have been published on LIVESTRONG.COM, SFgate.com and Chron.com. He also has experience in background investigations and spent almost two decades in legal practice. Stone received his law degree from Southwestern University School of Law and a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from California State University, Los Angeles.

    Photo Credits

    • Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images