Chapter 114 of the Texas Estates Code authorizes an owner of real property to designate a beneficiary to whom that property will pass upon the owner’s death. This process alleviates the expense that the beneficiary would otherwise have had to bear if the property had passed through the probate process. This alternative to probate is called a transfer on death deed. Executed by the property owner during his lifetime, the deed is a non-testamentary instrument that is freely revocable should the property owner change his mind regarding the primary or alternate beneficiaries named in the deed. To be effective, the transfer on death deed must state that the transfer of real property is to occur at the property owner’s death and must be recorded with the county clerk in the county in which the property is located prior to the death of the transferor. Once the deed is in effect, a will may not supersede the validly executed deed. In other words, if a will names a different individual as beneficiary, the property will go to the individual designated in the transfer on death deed, not the one named in the will.
TexasLawHelp.org has a packet on its website with information about and instructions and forms for the transfer on death deeds. There are links to forms and instructions for property owners who want to transfer real property using the transfer on death deed, for property owners who want to revoke a prior transfer on death deed, and for beneficiaries who want to know what needs to be done to acquire title to the property named in the deed.
There are more alternatives to probate that have been proposed. There are two bills before the current legislative session (SB 869 and HB 1753) that, if passed, would enable an owner to transfer his interest in a vehicle to a designated beneficiary, thereby allowing the vehicle to pass outside of probate. The Texas Access to Justice Commission, one of the champions of the need for low-income Texans to have equal access to the civil judicial system, is supporting this legislation.