What is a “Ladybird” Deed and should you have one?

The name “ladybird deed” allegedly comes from the type of deed used by President Lyndon Johnson to pass property to his wife “Lady Bird” Johnson. These are also often referred to as enhanced life estate deeds.

With a ladybird deed, the grantors (owners) give property to the grantees (beneficiaries) but retain for themselves a life estate (the right to use the property during their lifetime) coupled with the right to sell, gift or mortgage the property at any time. If the grantors still own the property at the time of their deaths, then the property passes to the grantees. In other words, the owners retain all rights to do anything they want with the property, even if it means that nothing passes to the beneficiaries.

Ladybird deeds are often used for Medicaid planning, i.e. to qualify an individual for Medicaid if he or she enters a nursing home. A residence is an exempt asset for Medicaid purposes, so the home does not have to be sold in order to spend down to the $2,000 in non-exempt assets needed to qualify for Medicaid. However, after the individual dies and the residence goes through probate, the State of Michigan will exercise its rights under the Medicaid estate recovery laws to force the property to be sold to reimburse the State for the amount of Medicaid benefits paid on behalf of the individual. With a ladybird deed, the home avoids probate administration, and thus, estate recovery.

Advantages of using ladybird deeds for estate planning is that they are relatively inexpensive, they avoid probate and they avoid some of the perils of joint ownership such as creditors of joint owners attaching liens on the property and joint owners exercising their rights over the property. In addition, the beneficiary can be changed at any time.

A disadvantage of using a ladybird deed to pass property to multiple beneficiaries is that it can cause disputes. In that case, naming a living trust as the beneficiary may work better because it puts one person in charge as trustee to sell the property and distribute the proceeds. If a person owns multiple properties and decides to change the plan of distribution, it is easier to amend the trust rather than multiple ladybird deeds.

If you are interested in discussing your situation and coming up with the plan that is right for you, please give me a call. I would be happy to assist you.

If you have any questions, please call Karen L. Stewart, Attorney and Counselor at (248) 735-0900.

For more information, please see my website, www.customestateplans.com.

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