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A lady bird deed, also called an enhanced life estate deed, is a type of American legal document that defines the rights of a property owner and heirs to the property. Named for the wife of United States President Lyndon Johnson, the deed gives the owner continued rights to sell or use the property until death, and ensures a smooth transfer to heirs. Some consider a lady bird deed a good alternative to simply willing the property to an heir, as it avoids the possibly lengthy process of probate.
The history behind the term used for an enhanced life estate deed is possibly apocryphal, but nonetheless this type of document is frequently referred to as a lady bird deed. According to legend, President Johnson cleverly used this method to ensure swift transfer of property to his wife, Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson. Whether or not this actually occurred is a matter of some debate, however the moniker stuck to this form of property transfer.
A lady bird deed is unique in that it allows the original owner to continue to have rights to the property, including the right of sale regardless of consent. This clause means that, although the property is willed to the heirs, the owner does not require their permission to sell the land if he or she chooses. This allows the owner greater security and power over his or her property, ensuring that heirs may not usurp the land until they officially receive it after the death of the owner.
Additionally, the deed protects the owner from financial problems of the heir. By retaining sole right to sell or transfer the property, the owner prevents the heir from using the property as a lien. Although the lady bird deed ensures that the property will pass to the heir at the death of the owner, until that time, the heir has no legal interest in the property.
Although one of the most frequently touted benefits of a lady bird deed is the capability to avoid probate, or judgment of ownership by the courts, some experts suggest this is not always the most important benefit. Although probate can be an expensive and time-consuming process, in the case of small estates with clearly drawn wills and no disputes, probate may be considerably simpler. Interested parties may want to consult an estate attorney to discover the best possible solution an individual situation.
Not all areas allow the use of lady bird deeds, but major states that allow this document include Florida, Texas, and California. Check local laws carefully to ensure that lady bird deeds are applicable to the region, as well as whether or not they must be prepared by a lawyer. Although some states, such as Florida, do not require a lawyer's participation, many experts suggest seeking legal advice regardless.