Unlocking the Role of Deeds in Probate and Estate Planning

Mar 24, 2023 | Holding Title, Real Estate Title, Title Group of Tennessee

Estate planning is a complicated topic. It’s a plan for what happens to your possessions when you die. Among those possessions, your home is likely one of the most significant. That is why homeowners need to understand the role of deeds in estate planning.

Deeds are the official documents we use to transfer ownership of property. If the owner does not account for the distribution of property in estate planning, the probate process can get complicated. Sometimes, it can even be an issue if the owner has a will. This post will cover some of the issues concerning deeds and estate planning.

The Role of Deeds in Estate Planning and Probate

Transfer-on-Death Deeds

Some states allow for Transfer-on-Death (TOD) deeds. They can be a good option if it is available. It is a deed that becomes official upon the property owner’s death. A TOD deed is one of the simplest ways to ensure the property transfers to the person of your choosing. Unfortunately, Tennessee does not recognize TOD deeds.

Executor Deeds

An executor deed is a type of deed used to transfer ownership from a decedent to their heir. Once the estate goes through the probate process, the executor can create this type of deed to transfer the property. However, the representative may need court approval before completing the deed.

Life Estate Deeds

A Life Estate deed is more like a contract than a property deed. In this case, the owner signs a deed that will change ownership upon their death. The beneficiary is usually a family member. Some may also use this type of deed for an unmarried partner. The owner still has the right to control and use the property during their lifetime. However, it can put limits on selling or borrowing against the property.


Many view trusts as the best option for avoiding probate. With a trust, you would transfer property to the trust with instructions for distribution upon your death. However, you must ensure the official property transfer to the trust. A failure in this regard will mean that the property still needs to go through probate. Two options for transferring titles to trusts are quitclaim deeds and warranty deeds. However, they both have advantages and disadvantages.

Finally, you must remember to update documents and trusts over time. For example, if one spouse dies, the surviving spouse may want to update the deed to remove the decedent’s name. It sounds like a small detail, but it can make a difference when the surviving spouse dies.

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