District of Columbia Transfer on Death Deed Form

What is a District of Columbia transfer-on-death (TOD) deed?

A District of Columbia transfer-on-death (TOD) deed is a legal document used to transfer real estate on the death of an owner. It gives the property to one or more beneficiaries named in the deed. A TOD deed works much like a beneficiary choice on a bank or financial account. The owner may change or revoke it at any time while the owner is alive. If the owner has not changed or revoked the choice of beneficiary, the property passes to the beneficiary on the owner’s death, outside of the probate process.

DC TOD deeds were first authorized when the District adopted the Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act, which went into effect on March 19, 2013.1 The act applies to all TOD deeds made before, on, or after the date it was adopted.2

What is the purpose of a District of Columbia TOD deed?

A DC TOD deed is an estate planning tool. It does two things:

  1. Retains control during life. An owner who makes a TOD deed maintains complete control over the property during his or her life. The owner can revoke the deed, sell or mortgage the property, or otherwise deal with the property without notifying the named beneficiaries.
  2. Avoids probate at death. A TOD deed removes property from the owner’s probate estate. As a result, the owner can transfer the property under the terms of the deed instead of through the probate process.3

These two features make a TOD deed an alternative to a living trust, which serves the same purposes but costs more to set up and run.

What is the benefit of avoiding probate?

Probate, like many legal processes, can take a lot of work and be costly. It often requires an attorney to be hired to present various documents to the court in a certain order. These documents give information about the deceased owner’s assets and debts, making the owner’s personal financial affairs public. A TOD deed avoids the expense, hassle, and loss of privacy that come with probate.

What types of property can be transferred using a District of Columbia TOD deed?

A DC TOD deed can only be used to transfer real estate located in the District of Columbia.4 It cannot be used to transfer cars, boats, or any assets other than real estate located in the District of Columbia.

What is the effect of a District of Columbia TOD Deed while the owner is alive?

A DC TOD deed becomes effective on the owner’s death.5 During the owner’s life, a transfer-on-death deed does not:

  1. Affect the property rights of the owner or any other owner, including the right to give away, sell, or mortgage the property;
  2. Affect the rights of a beneficiary (even if the beneficiary knows about the deed);
  3. Affect the rights of a creditor (even if the creditor knows about the deed);
  4. Affect the owner’s or chosen beneficiary’s ability to collect any form of public assistance (like Medicaid);
  5. Give the beneficiary any current legal rights to the property; or
  6. Allow the property to be seized or claimed by creditors of a named beneficiary.6

These rules help make it clear that signing a TOD deed has little effect while the owner is alive. The owner keeps full control over the property and all rights of ownership.

Can the owner sell the property after recording a TOD deed?

Yes. While the owner is alive, a TOD deed does not affect the owner’s right to sell or mortgage the property.7 Any property rights that the beneficiary gets are determined at the owner’s death, subject to any prior transfers or mortgages.8 In other words, the named beneficiary gets only whatever rights the owner has not sold or otherwise gotten rid of during the owner’s life.

Is a District of Columbia TOD deed revocable?

Yes. A DC TOD deed can always be revoked, or undone, even if it includes language that says it cannot.9 A TOD deed may be revoked by any one of the following three documents:

  1. A transfer-on-death deed that revokes the deed or part of the deed outright or by inconsistency;10
  2. A revocation document that clearly revokes the deed or part of the deed;11 or
  3. A lifetime transfer using a deed that clearly revokes the transfer-on-death deed or part of the deed.12

In each case, a notary must stamp the document after the date the deed was signed and recorded. The deed must have been recorded before the owner’s death in the public records in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds.13

Once a transfer-on-death deed is recorded, it cannot be revoked by a revocatory act (such as marking through, burning, or tearing up the deed).14 The deed can be revoked only by a written document.

A deed of joint owners is revoked only if it is revoked by all of the living joint owners.15 A revocation by one owner does not make the deed less valid as it applies to another owner’s rights to the property.16

The owner may also undo the TOD deed by transferring the property during life.17 A beneficiary’s ownership is determined at the owner’s death and is subject to any prior transfers.18 If the owner has already transferred the property before death, there is nothing for the beneficiary to inherit under the TOD deed.

What is the effect of a District of Columbia TOD deed when the owner dies?

The Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act lays out a series of default rules:

  1. The property transfers to the named beneficiaries;19
  2. Each beneficiary must survive the grantor in order to inherit the property (the property rights lapse, or lose effect, if the beneficiary fails to survive the transferor);20
  3. If the property passes to multiple beneficiaries, each beneficiary receives an equal share with no right of survivorship;21 and
  4. If the property passes to multiple beneficiaries, the share of one that lapses or fails for any reason is transferred to the others and divided equally.22

These rules can be changed by the terms of the deed.23 A well-written TOD deed usually includes custom language that gives more flexibility. It often includes multiple options for deciding who will receive property when a beneficiary dies before the owner.

A beneficiary who inherits property under a TOD deed takes the property subject to all prior sales, mortgages, or other actions that occur prior to the owner’s death.24

A transfer-on-death deed transfers property without covenant or warranty of title, even if the deed says a warranty is included.25

Can a District of Columbia TOD deed leave property to multiple beneficiaries?

Yes. A DC TOD deed may transfer property to “one or more beneficiaries.”26 Unless the deed says otherwise, each beneficiary receives equal and undivided rights to the property with no right of survivorship.27 Property owners can include language in the deed that gives a right of survivorship to the beneficiaries. The right of survivorship lets the property pass to any surviving beneficiaries when one beneficiary dies.

Can joint owners sign a District of Columbia TOD deed?

Yes. The Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act allows transfers to joint owners. This includes owners who hold property with a right of survivorship (either joint tenant or tenancy by the entirety), but it does not include tenants in common, which carries no right of survivorship.28

If the owner holds the property jointly with other owners, the property will pass through the right of survivorship to the other owners before passing to the named beneficiaries. If one joint owner dies but is survived by other joint owners, the property passes to the surviving joint owners.29 When the last joint owner dies, the property passes to the named beneficiaries under the TOD deed.30 These rules help make things clear in many common cases. For instance, a married couple might want to leave property to the surviving spouse upon the death of one spouse, then to the children when the surviving spouse dies.

A deed of joint owners is revoked only if it is revoked by all of the living joint owners.31

What happens if the beneficiary named in a District of Columbia TOD deed dies before the owner?

If a DC TOD deed names a beneficiary and that beneficiary dies before the owner, the transfer to that beneficiary lapses (fails).32 Under the default rules, if the TOD deed names two or more beneficiaries, the property rights of any one that lapses are transferred to the surviving beneficiary or beneficiaries on a pro rata basis.33 Most well-written TOD deed forms include custom wording that gives more flexibility and planning opportunities than what is included in the default rules.

Must the owner notify the beneficiaries of the District of Columbia TOD deed?

No. A DC TOD deed works even if the chosen beneficiary never knows about it, receives a copy of it, or approves it during the owner’s life.34

Can a District of Columbia TOD deed be used when the property is mortgaged?

Yes. A TOD deed can be used for mortgaged property. A beneficiary who receives property by TOD deed takes it “subject to” any existing mortgages on the property.35 The TOD deed does not affect the rights of the bank, which may still foreclose if the mortgage is not paid.

Must a District of Columbia TOD deed be recorded?

Yes. To be effective, a DC TOD deed must be recorded before the owner’s death in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds.36

Can a District of Columbia TOD deed be signed by an agent under a power of attorney?

The mental ability required to make or revoke a transfer-on-death deed is the same as the ability required to make a will.37 This language suggests that if the owner has dementia or is otherwise unable to make legal decisions, a power of attorney should not be used to create a DC TOD deed. Exceptions may apply if the power of attorney specifically gives the agent power to make a TOD deed. But even then, it is best to use caution.

What are the requirements for a District of Columbia TOD deed?

The Uniform Real Property Transfer on Death Act includes specific requirements that apply to TOD deeds. To be valid, a DC TOD deed must:

  • Meet the requirements that apply to other forms of deeds, including giving the names of the parties and a legal description of the property;
  • State that the transfer to the chosen beneficiary will occur at the owner’s death; and
  • Be recorded before the owner’s death in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds.38

It is important to meet each requirement—including those that are not spelled out in the act but are generally required for other types of DC deeds. It is also important to include any custom language required to avoid the default rules and deal with the possibility of a beneficiary’s early death. Because DC has requirements that differ from those in other states, the use of generic, fill-in-the-blank forms should be avoided.

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  1. See D.C. Code §§ 19-604.01, et seq.
  2. D.C. Code § 19-604.03.
  3. See C. Code § 19-604.07.
  4. D.C. Code § 19-604.02(5).
  5. D.C. Code § 19-604.05.
  6. D.C. Code § 19-604.12.
  7. D.C. Code § 19-604.05(1).
  8. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(b).
  9. D.C. Code § 19-604.06.
  10. D.C. Code § 19-604.11(a)(1)(A).
  11. C. Code § 19-604.11(a)(1)(B).
  12. C. Code § 19-604.11(a)(1)(C).
  13. D.C. Code § 19-604.11(a)(2).
  14. D.C. Code § 19-604.11(c).
  15. D.C. Code § 19-604.11(b)(2).
  16. D.C. Code § 19-604.11(b)(1).
  17. D.C. Code § 19-604.11(d).
  18. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(b).
  19. C. Code § 19-604.13(a)(1).
  20. C. Code § 19-604.13(a)(2).
  21. C. Code § 19-604.13(a)(3).
  22. C. Code § 19-604.13(a)(4).
  23. See D.C. Code § 19-604.13(a) (“Except as otherwise provided in the transfer on death deed”).
  24. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(b).
  25. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(e).
  26. D.C. Code § 19-604.05.
  27. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(a)(3).
  28. D.C. Code § 19-604.02(3).
  29. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(c).
  30. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(d).
  31. D.C. Code § 19-604.11(b)(2).
  32. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(a)(2).
  33. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(a)(4).
  34. D.C. Code § 19-604.10.
  35. D.C. Code § 19-604.13(b).
  36. D.C. Code § 19-604.09.
  37. D.C. Code § 19-604.08.
  38. C. Code § 19-604.09.