How To Transfer Property After The Death of a Spouse

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There is a lot of business to tend to when a spouse dies. If you recently experienced the death of your spouse, you likely have some questions about the different issues you need to address. A common concern is how to transfer real estate. There are specific procedures used, depending on whether you jointly owned real estate with your spouse and whether your spouse had a last will and testament.

Obtain a copy of the deed to the real estate in question from the county Register of Deeds office.

Read More: Legal Risks to Signing an Interspousal Transfer Deed

Locate your spouse's will (if there is one).

Request a certified copy of your spouse's death certificate. A certified copy is one that is authenticated by your state's Department of Vital Statistics as being true and correct. Typically, the mortuary or funeral home that handles your spouse's service and disposition will obtain these copies for you.

Examine the deed to the real estate to see if it states that the real estate is jointly owned by both you and your spouse with what is known as a right of surviorship. A right of surviorship transfers ownership to you automatically upon the death of your spouse. You need take only one additional step to shore up your ownership interest in the real estate.

Take a certified copy of your spouse's death certificate to the Register of Deeds' office. The death certificate will be filed along with the existing deed to confirm transfer of the ownership interest in the real estate upon your spouse's death.

If the real estate in question was not jointly owned by you and your spouse. review their last will and testament. Determine how they desired to dispose of the real estate after their death. The common practice is to leave real estate to the spouse, particularly if it is the family home.

Obtain from the Court Clerk a Petition to Probate Will form.

Complete the form and file it with the Court Clerk.

Petition the probate court presiding over the case to approve the transfer of the real estate to you, pursuant to the terms of the will. If the property is designated to go to another person, the court is petitioned for that transfer.

Prepare a deed to transfer the real estate to the individual designated in the will to receive the property. This is done after the court approves the proposed transfer. The deed is signed by the person appointed in the will -- and approved by the court -- as the executor of the estate.


  • If you face complications sorting out the ownership of real estate following the death of your spouse, consider retaining the services of an estate or real estate attorney to assist you. State and local bar associations maintain directories of attorneys that practice in specific areas of the law. Contact information for these organizations is available from the American Bar Association.

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