How to Transfer Property Held in a Trust

by Maggie Lourdes

Many people transfer real estate, vehicles, investments and personal belongings into trusts as part of their estate planning. Assets held in trust bypass probate when you die so they are transferred to heirs free of court costs and delays. A trust may be revocable, meaning its property can be transferred and managed before the trust maker dies. A trust can also be irrevocable, meaning transfers may not be allowed until the maker dies or other specific events occur.

Trust Terms

You must look at the specific language of a trust to determine if property transfers are permitted. For example, Bob and Mary have twin boys in grade school; they place their home in an irrevocable family trust and prohibit its sale if they die until their sons turn 21. Conversely, Sally and George have no children. They place their Florida beach house in a revocable trust for their siblings and leave them the power to make decisions regarding the sale or transfer of the property.

Transfer Documents

Proper documents must be used to transfer ownership of specific trust property. For example, deeds transfer real estate. Vehicle titles transfer cars and trucks, and the backs of stock certificates generally have designated spaces to sign and transfer stock ownership. Each state has its own technical requirements for conveying assets. For instance, ink colors for signatures, and notary and witness requirements can vary for property deeds. Attorneys can answer specific questions regarding preparing documents to transfer trust assets.

Trustee Signatures

Trustees are the parties empowered with the authority to transfer ownership of trust assets. A trust may have one trustee or co-trustees, which is common with married couples. A trust's conditions may require co-trustees to agree to asset transfers, or they may allow co-trustees to act independently on behalf of the trust. A valid transfer requires a trustee to sign all necessary documents pursuant to the authority granted to him under the trust's terms.

Recording Documents

Some asset transfers are filed in state or county offices. For example, property deeds are generally recorded in the register of deeds for the county in which the property is located. Generally, vehicle transfers are processed at the department of motor vehicles. Other ownership transfers, such as a bill of sale for a lawn mower or appliance, do not require public filing. An attorney can answer specific questions regarding recording requirements for trust transfers.