An enhanced life estate deed, also known as a “lady bird deed” or simply an “enhanced deed”, is a special type of legal document that enables a property owner to transfer their property to a named beneficiary (i.e., a recipient) upon their death.

In most estate-related matters, the property must be transferred to the beneficiaries by using the procedures of the probate court, which can be costly and usually takes a bit of time. In contrast, an enhanced life estate deed allows for the transfer of property to occur without ever having to go through the probate process.

Much like a standard life estate deed, an enhanced life estate deed lets the property owner retain ownership, which thus gives them continuous control over that property until they are deceased. However, enhanced life estate deeds have less restrictions than standard life estate deeds and also provide greater benefits to its creator.

For example, the property owner will be able to sell or make a profit off of their property throughout their lifetime. They will also still be eligible to receive certain benefits that may be connected to that property, such as Medicaid.

Finally, it is important to note that enhanced life estate deeds are not recognized by the law in every state. As of today, the only states that currently offer enhanced life estate deeds as an estate planning option include: Florida, Texas, Michigan, Vermont, and West Virginia.

Therefore, you may want to speak with an estate lawyer to ask if and when your state may be accepting them, or if they can recommend another deed option that offers similar benefits.

What are Some Typical Disputes over Enhanced Life Estate Deeds?

As with any type of life estate deed, there are various legal issues that can arise when an enhanced life estate deed is involved. Some commonly associated issues that may cause an estate dispute include:

  • Claims concerning who the proper beneficiaries are and whether they have been identified accurately;
  • Disputes over the rights of the property owner, such as whether or not they can sell the property contained in the deed before their death;
  • Disputes regarding the actual value of the property (note that a property appraisal may be necessary in such cases);
  • Issues related to specific state laws since enhanced life estate deeds are not available in every state; and
  • A whole host of other legal problems that could involve property taxes or property insurance, since some insurers may be reluctant to insure a property that has been transferred through an enhanced life estate deed.

Like any lawsuit, the reasons for the claim may vary according to the laws of a particular state and the individual facts surrounding a specific case.

How are Estate Dispute Matters Resolved?

Disputes over enhanced life estate deeds can be fairly difficult to resolve, especially in cases where a property owner has already passed away. In such cases, since the parties cannot ask the property owner specific questions about the issue any longer, the remedies for the dispute may require a re-examination of the various estate documents that the property owner left behind.

As such, some of the ways in which an estate dispute can sometimes be resolved include the following remedies:

  • By making adjustments to the administration of the estate (e.g., by choosing a different estate executor);
  • Redrafting or rewording the overall estate plan according to the property owner’s original intentions (this can be done by reviewing related documents, instructions, etc.);
  • Reviewing the relevant document in order to determine who the actual beneficiaries are;
  • Redistributing property to the proper recipient; and
  • Asking the court to issue damages awards to recoup any financial losses caused by an act of breach, violation, improper distribution, and so forth.

In many instances, a monetary damages award may be adequate enough to reimburse a party for losses related to an enhanced life estate deed. In other situations, however, the party may need to seek a different remedy, such as requesting an injunction from the court that would require the deed to be transferred immediately to the rightful beneficiary.

Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer for Help with an Enhanced Life Estate Deed?

Enhanced life estate deeds are complicated legal documents that are currently only available in five states and as such, are governed by extremely specific state laws. Therefore, if you have any questions about these deeds or need some guidance to create one, you may want to speak to a local estate lawyer for further advice.

An experienced estate lawyer will be able to determine whether an enhanced life estate deed is the right estate planning tool for you, as well as can research the laws in your area for another option if your state does not recognize this form of deed.

Additionally, your lawyer can help you to draft, edit, and review your estate documents. Your lawyer can also assist you with filing a lawsuit and by providing representation if you need to appear in court on an estate-related matter.