Question: Prior to her death, my mom prepared a simple will outlining her wishes to divide her property equally between me and my siblings. When I was cleaning out her drawers, however, I found a beneficiary deed that purported to give me her home upon her death. Does this mean that the house is mine?
Answer: A beneficiary deed is a legal instrument that is designed to pass real property from one person to another immediately upon death. The first important point is that property controlled by beneficiary deed does not go through probate — the transfer takes immediate effect upon the grantor’s death.
The second important point is that a beneficiary deed supersedes a will, so if the documents contradict one another, the beneficiary deed takes precedence. The third important point is that only a valid beneficiary deed will effectuate a transfer of property.
In your case, there is a discrepancy between your mother’s will and the beneficiary deed, so whether the house is yours primarily depends on whether the beneficiary deed was validly executed.
To be valid, a beneficiary deed must be signed, notarized, and recorded prior to the grantor’s death. This is somewhat different from other types of deeds, which typically take effect even without recordation, so you should check with the County Recorder’s Office to ascertain whether or not your mother recorded the beneficiary deed.
In the event that your mother recorded the beneficiary deed, the home likely became yours immediately upon her death, and it should not be subject to the terms of her will. If, on the other hand, your mother did not record the deed, the home will likely be divided between you and your siblings.