Where Do I Find a Transfer on Death (TOD) Instrument?

Q: After my husband’s death, my daughter went to pick up the deed to our house. There was a quitclaim deed that our old mortgage lender put in place with my signature on it. Also, I can’t find the transfer on death instrument (TODI) either. All records and insurance on the house are gone. Where should I start looking?

Estate Planning: Trusts and Transfer on Death (TOD)

A: Oh, boy. Do we have questions. 

For starters, you said that you found a quitclaim deed that your old mortgage lender had you sign. Did you mean that you signed over your interest in the home to your husband? And, at that time, he became the sole owner of the home?

There are times when a lender can’t approve a loan to a husband and wife. This happens when the credit of one of the spouses is terrible. In this situation, the lender will have the spouse with the bad credit convey their share of the home over to the other spouse. Do you recall if this is what happened to you? 

Are Transfer on Death (TOD) Deeds Smart?

If you had terrible credit and signed the quitclaim deed, the usual thing is to have the owner spouse convey the home back into the name of both spouses. Did that happen? From where we sit, it looks like a second deed wasn’t signed and recorded that would put you back into the title to the home. 

But you mentioned something about a TODI. Did your husband sign the TODI and file or record in the government office that handles real estate documents? That would be a lucky break. 

So, that’s where you should start. Go to that government office (or if they have an online site, go there) and check to see if the TODI was recorded or filed. If you go in person, you might find someone kind to help you look it up. You’ll need your property address and the property tax identification number. This identification number is assigned to your home by the local taxing authorities. You’ll find this number on your property tax bills. It should also be on that quitclaim deed you found.

Should I set up a trust or use a transfer-on-death (TOD) deed?

Take all of this documentation with you when you go to your local recorder of deeds office. Go online to the recorder of deed’s official site. Use your tax identification number to find all documents that have been recorded to that number. 

(A warning: Make sure you go to the official site and not a site set up by third parties that require you to pay money to set up or look for an account.)

Scroll through the documents and see if you find the TODI. If you do, see if you can download a copy of the document. Some government websites may require you to pay a fee to download the document. Again, be careful you are dealing with the official site for your local recorder of deeds or other government office. Don’t give anyone your personal information or credit card information unless you are completely confident you are dealing with your local government agency.

Should You Have a Transfer on Death Deed, a Living Trust or Both?

Once you download the document, see if you are named as the person who will receive the property upon the death of your husband. We hope you find the document and it names you. That means that upon his death, you’re the sole owner of the home.

On that same website or with that same government office, while you are looking for the TODI, you can see if there is another deed that put you back as co-owner of the home with your husband. Whether your husband signed a deed putting you into title or signed a TODI to put you in title after his death, the effect would be the same: you’d be the sole owner of the home upon his death.

On the other hand, if you don’t find a TODI and it appears your husband is the sole owner of the home, then we hope your husband had a will. If his will names you as the heir of his estate, then you can work with a local estate attorney and probate court to have the home put into your name. 

Trusts: How to Handle a Home in a Trust

If your husband died intestate, or without a will, then the estate laws of the state in which the home is located would control who would own the home after his death. In many cases, the spouse of the deceased would inherit a one-half interest in the home and the deceased’s children would own the other half interest. 

It’s complicated, and there’s a lot riding on documentation that may have been signed a long time ago. Unless the right documents pop up easily, and you know for certain that you’re the sole owner of the home, it might be time to get some professional help. Good luck.

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