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Questions and Answers About Arizona’s “Beneficiary Deed”

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MAY 7, 2001 VOLUME 8, NUMBER 45

Last week Elder Law Issues reported on Arizona’s new “Beneficiary Deed” statute. A law passed by the Arizona legislature this year creates a new, simpler way to pass title to real property, without any requirement of probate and avoiding the cost of establishing a living trust.

A number of readers had questions about the new deed form. Questions included:

When can I sign a beneficiary deed?

Most laws take effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns. Adjournment is now scheduled for Thursday, May 10. If the legislature actually adjourns that day, the new law will be effective (and beneficiary deeds will become an available choice) on August 3, 2001.

Will the recipients under a beneficiary deed receive the benefit of stepped-up basis for income taxes?

Yes. To explain: when you inherit property from another, you usually do not have to pay income taxes on the increase in value of that property during the prior owner’s life. For purposes of calculating the income tax on capital gains, your “basis” in the property is said to have been “stepped up” to its value on the date of death of the person who left it to you. Beneficiary deeds will reach the same result.

How will beneficiary deeds affect ALTCS (Medicaid) recovery rights?

ALTCS is Arizona’s long-term care Medicaid program. When it provides benefits, the program has a claim against the recipient’s estate. Under current law that claim can only be collected in a probate proceeding. Since the beneficiary deed will avoid the probate process, ALTCS’ claim will not be levied against the property. This makes beneficiary deeds particularly attractive to ALTCS recipients and their families.

It is worth noting that a different law passed by the legislature this year may undo some of this benefit. “Non-probate transfers” (including beneficiary deeds, living trusts and joint tenancy bank accounts, but not real estate held as joint tenants) may now be challenged by creditors, including ALTCS.

Why would anyone want to create a living trust now?

Beneficiary deeds will be a valuable new estate planning tool, but will not replace other options. Perhaps most importantly, a beneficiary deed will not help a married couple take advantage of the maximum estate tax exemption if their combined estates exceed the taxable level (currently $675,000).

Trusts remain a more effective way to control property after death (for a disabled or spendthrift child, for example). Trusts can be used for real property outside Arizona. Another advantage for trusts: a single amendment can change your entire estate plan, rather than requiring new deeds and beneficiary designation changes on each individual asset.

For those who already have established living trusts, the beneficiary deed probably represents a step backward. For those now considering their options for the first time the beneficiary deed may be an attractive, low-cost choice for estate planning.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

Robert has two adult children, two young grandchildren and a wife of over fifty years. He is devoted to all of them. He is also very fond of Rosalind Franklin (his office companion corgi), and his homebound cat Muninn. He just likes people, their pets and their stories.

Elizabeth N.R. Friman


Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

Famous people's wills

Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.