How Can I Change Title to Property in a Living Trust?

By Christine Funk, J.D.

How Can I Change Title to Property in a Living Trust?

By Christine Funk, J.D.

Changing the title to real property in a living trust requires legal authorization. You cannot attempt to change title to property, in or out of a living trust, unless you are either the owner of the property or the trustee charged with managing the property. However, if you do have authorization, there are a few different circumstances in which you might legally change title to property in a living trust.

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The Original Trustee of a Revocable Living Trust

Whether the living trust at issue is a revocable living trust or an irrevocable living trust, only the trustee, or agent, charged with managing the assets in the trust can change the title to property in the trust. For example, if a grantor sets up a revocable living trust and transfers their assets to the trust, the title to their real estate property transfers from "Mary Sue Anderson" to "Mary Sue Anderson, trustee of the Sue Anderson living trust." Mary, as the agent for the Sue Anderson living trust, may sell the property while she is still alive and transfer the title of that property to the new purchasers. This transaction occurs just as any other title transfer might.

The Successor Trustee of a Revocable Living Trust

Once the original trustee of a revocable living trust has died, the property in the trust transfers to a successor. Before this can happen, two things must take place.

1. The title to the property must transfer from the original agent (i.e., "Mary Sue Anderson, trustee of the Sue Anderson living trust") to the name of the successor.

2. A form called an Affidavit of Death of Trustee must be prepared according to the state's legal requirements.

Once the form is completed, it must be filed with the real property recording office in the county of the property.

The Trustee of an Irrevocable Living Trust

If a grantor sets up an irrevocable living trust for the benefit of their grandchildren that involves, for example, the sale of a home, the terms of the trust may dictate the subsequent title transfer. It is possible, depending on the terms, that the title to certain real estate cannot transfer once in the trust, as the intention of the trust is to preserve the family property for the next generation. When the real property is available for transfer, only the trustee designated to manage the assets in the trust can change title to the property.

Changing Title to Personal Property

In addition to real property, most living trusts also contain accounts with various financial institutions. These accounts may include:

  • Checking accounts
  • Savings accounts
  • Stocks
  • Bonds
  • Mutual funds
  • Retirement accounts

These accounts, while in the name of the now deceased trustee, are in the possession of a custodian: a bank, credit union, or brokerage firm. The successor agent must provide the custodian with a certificate of trust. This serves as proof that the successor has authorization to change the title on the accounts.

Property Without Title

When establishing a living trust, some sweeping language typically places all miscellaneous property into the trust. This can include furniture, household valuables such as Grandma's china, jewelry, art, and other possessions and assets. This property doesn't come with legal documents declaring title. It is simply under the control of the trustee of the living trust. When this person dies, the successor takes possession of these items. No additional steps are necessary to transfer the property.

As a general rule, only the owner of the property or the agent managing the trust can change title to property within a trust. In some cases, the terms of the trust bar even the agent from making such a change. It is, therefore, incumbent upon them to understand what they legally can and can't do when entrusted with a living will.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.