Our homes, land, and vehicles are many Americans' most significant investments. Yet frequently, low-income families don't have the means to transfer these properties effectively.
Attorney Carlos Moran worked with two Texas families, creating a plan to ensure financial security for future generations.
Transfer on Death Deeds (TODDs) are not well known outside poverty law — Carlos Moran, an Associate with Kirkland & Ellis, was unfamiliar with them too until recently. Through our organization's pro bono relationship with Kirkland & Ellis, Carlos is nearing completion of two Transfer on Death Deeds.
A Vehicle for Transferring Generational Wealth
Transfer on Death Deeds became legal in Texas in 2015 and were devised as a simple mechanism for transferring ownership of land to a beneficiary when the owner dies — no probate required. Poverty law attorneys frequently recommend Transfer on Death Deeds for clients with modest means. For simple estates, it is far easier and much less expensive for the client to transfer real property than more traditional estate planning.
When most people think of estate planning, 'wills' are at the forefront. "She wanted a will," Carlos said about one of his clients. "So we explained the differences between a will and a TODD, and she really liked the idea."
"She was worried about writing a will and then no one going to probate or coming down there for the property," Carlos explained. "So she was very, very relieved it is a fairly simple process — just bringing up that certificate and nothing else. She liked that it's easy and transparent, and there will be no trial for her descendants."
If a Transfer on Death Deed is properly recorded, no one will need to go through probate to keep homes, land, and vehicles within the family. Paul Zambie, our TLSC Transactional Managing Attorney, explains how beneficial TODDs are for families with modest incomes:
These save money and save homes. Our homes are the biggest purchase we make. TODDs protect homes so they can be passed to family members. It puts the benefactor at ease, lessens the burden on the family, and saves the family a couple of thousand dollars in probate court.
"These people need help. They're not very familiar with their options and some have trouble communicating in English, or with lawyers."
Carlos' client felt at ease knowing this would now be handled for her family. Many properties are lost because of how difficult and costly it is to pass on homes, cars, and land. "It is possible that the owner dies and no one will want to go through the trouble and expense of trying to become the owner of these properties," Carlos explains. "The client was afraid that her legacy would go to waste. She had worked hard for what she wanted to give, but she is afraid that some descendants, like her grandchildren, would not make an effort to maintain the property — especially if it was too expensive or too time-consuming to even get the rights to it."
Handling a TODD Case
Carlos explains that with pro bono TODD cases, "The scope of the engagement is very well defined. It's rewarding work, but at the same time, it's the type of work where you know beforehand more or less how much time you need to invest."
Yet the time invested can be the difference in a family's financial security and generational legacy.
"These people need help. They're not very familiar with their options and some have trouble communicating in English, or with lawyers," explains Carlos. "Without something like a TODD, they would be at risk of losing what they have worked for throughout their lives. It really means the world to them."