Question: My Aunt just passed away. She left her home and 20 acres to my four siblings and myself. She did this with a ladybird deed that her attorney prepared for her. What should I do now?

Answer: You and your siblings are now the owners of the property. You need to record a certified copy of your Aunt’s death certificate at the Register of Deed’s office in the county where the property is located. Make sure to do something with your share in the property (20% ownership). If you don’t do anything and you pass away, then a probate estate may have to be opened. This depends on how the lady bird deed was worded. If your share does not pass to your siblings automatically when you die, then one way you can avoid probate is to do a lady bird deed for your share. Then it will pass to the beneficiary you have named; just like your Aunt’s did. However, just a word of caution on lady bird deeds; they are not Wills or Trusts. The lady bird deed will pass the property to a person or persons. You cannot name contingent beneficiaries, or charitable gifts, or other complex distributions.

Another way to avoid probate would be to deed your share into your Trust. Then the Trust will control what happens to your share. With a trust you can delay distributions, leave charitable contributions, etc. If you don’t want the Trust to own your share right now, then you can do a lady bird deed putting the property in your Trust when you die. I would advise you to see an estate planning attorney. They can let you know your options. Don’t try to do this on your own; I see too many self-prepared deeds that ALL end up in probate.

Michael B. Walling is an Elder Law attorney with an advance Master of Laws degree. He manages The Elder Law Center and the law firm of Michael B. Walling, PLC. Mr. Walling is also a part-time Professor at Western Michigan University. Please email any questions you would like addressed to: This column is intended for general information purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice to any particular person.