Four ways to pass down your family home to your children

Real estate

Drawing up a clear estate plan can ensure your property is distributed in a way that suits both you and your family’s best interests.


Happy memories of children gathering at your family home cast a sentimental spell over the process of passing property to the next generation.

But as with any other real estate transaction, it’s important to move past emotions when deciding what will happen to your abode in the future.

Whether you have a cozy vacation cabin, a palatial estate or a sophisticated condominium, drawing up a clear estate plan can ensure your property is distributed in a way that suits both you and your family’s best interests.

“The best place to start the process of passing your home onto the next generation is to have a conversation with your kids about their expectations and interests,” says Dan Sullivan, a wealth strategies consultant with RBC Wealth Management-U.S.

“If you own a home and plan to pass it on to your kids, make sure they really want it,” Sullivan says. “If it’s an investment property that has renters in it, ask them if they want to take on the responsibility of being a landlord. If it’s your own home, ask if any of your kids will want to live there after you pass away or if they plan to sell it.”

There are several ways to pass on your home to your kids, including selling or gifting it to them while you’re alive, bequeathing it when you pass away or signing a “Transfer-on-Death” deed in states where it’s available. All of these options can have both legal and tax implications, so it’s important to think through each of the possibilities to make sure the property doesn’t become a burden for your kids.

Here’s what you should know about each option:

1. Selling your home to your kids

Parents can sell their home to their children, but they need to do so at a fair market value, Sullivan explains.

“Parents need to sell the house at a value comparable to what other similar properties are currently selling for,” he says. “If they opt to do a bargain sale, then that’s partially a gift and will generate tax implications.”

Parents can loan money to their children to purchase the home, but legally the parents must charge interest to the kids and then declare the interest they earn as income.  The loan can be structured to provide a minimum interest rate, which the IRS publishes monthly for loans between related parties.  These interest rates are usually significantly lower than if the children were to obtain a mortgage commercially, thus lowering their monthly payments.

If the kids can afford to buy the home, Sullivan says, “a sale can be great for parents who want to downsize and need the proceeds of the sale to move.”

Alternatively, you can opt for a life estate that allows you to live in the property until you pass away. But even if you have the right to live in the property for the rest of your life, you still have the same responsibilities as if you were the owner, Sullivan explains. That could include paying mortgages and applicable property taxes, maintaining insurance, and keeping up with repairs on the property.

Another option is to establish a Qualified Personal Resident Trust (QPRT), Sullivan says, which transfers ownership of the home to a trust.

“The terms of the trust can allow the parents to live in the home rent-free for a certain period of time, but this is an irrevocable trust that cannot be changed,” says Sullivan. If the parents outlive the terms of the trust, the property will be excluded from their estate. If they want to continue to live in the home after the term of the trust ends, they must pay fair market rent while living in the home.

But, Sullivan says, a QPRT may not be for every family. Parents should be mindful, because if there is a disagreement in the family, the kids could evict their parents.

2. Gifting your property to your kids

If you want to give the property to your kids during your lifetime, consider using an irrevocable trust, Sullivan says, which can protect against children’s potential creditors.

When gifting property, Sullivan reminds owners if the recipient gets into financial trouble in the future, the property could be foreclosed on and taken out of the family in a bankruptcy.

That’s why, he says, “it’s usually better to transfer property at the time of your death because of tax implications.”

3. Bequeathing your property

If you want to pass your property to your kids after you pass away, Sullivan says it’s generally better to do so through a revocable living trust, which allows you to name children as successor trustees allowing for continuity of property management. A revocable living trust can be changed during your lifetime, giving you the option of changing your mind, and ultimately allows you to spell out how you want the property to be handled after your death.

“Talk to your family about it first and discuss whether anyone wants to live in it and has the wherewithal to keep up with the property taxes, insurance and maintenance costs,” Sullivan says. “If no one wants the property, the trust can sell it after you pass away and distribute the proceeds.”

If one heir wants the property and others do not, Sullivan suggests making equitable financial arrangements to compensate, such as leaving additional money to the heir who won’t inherit the home.

4. Deed transfer

Twenty-five states and the District of Columbia allow property owners to sign a Transfer-on-Death deed. This works in a similar way to a ‘payable-on-death’ designation for a bank account that people use to transfer assets to their heirs, Sullivan explains.

“A Transfer-on-Death deed can be used to avoid probate on the property,” he says, adding that the designation can easily be changed at any time before you pass away.

You can sign a Transfer-on-Death deed for any property located in a state that allows this legal process regardless of whether your permanent residence is in that state.

No matter how you plan to pass your home on to your kids, the process can be complicated. That’s why it’s important to consult with your financial and legal advisors to explore options and related implications to work toward an outcome that’s in everyone’s best interests.

RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, registered investment adviser and Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.

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