Skip to main content
Find a Lawyer
Please enter a legal issue and/or a location
Begin typing to search, use arrow keys to navigate, use enter to select

Find a Lawyer

More Options

Who Gets Barbie’s Dream House? How Unmarried Couples Transfer Property

By Catherine Hodder, Esq. | Last updated on

In the Barbie movie, Ken takes over Barbie's dream house (which is adverse possession and a topic for a different article). But if Barbie wanted to leave Ken her dream house after her death, she could do it in a few ways. This article explains how to transfer real property (real estate) to unmarried partners through a will and other estate planning tools.

Giving Real Estate in a Will

Barbie could make a provision in her will to leave her house to Ken. She would describe her property and list Ken as a beneficiary. She may also direct whether Ken receives the property subject to any mortgage on it or if her estate will pay the mortgage and Ken gets the property without any debt.

Upon Barbie's death, her personal representative or executor of her estate administers her will in probate court and transfers the property to Ken. However, since real estate passed in a will goes through the probate process, it takes time. Barbie may consider alternative ways to give Ken her property.

Giving Real Estate Through a Transfer-on-Death Deed

transfer-on-death deed allows Barbie to name Ken as a beneficiary of her own property after her death. Transfer-on-death deed transfers are available in 31 states. The deed lists the grantor (Barbie), the property's legal description, which is found on the deed or tax records, and the beneficiary of the property (Ken).

Barbie then signs the deed in front of a notary and records the deed with her county clerk's office. Ken does not have any rights to the property (his future Mojo Dojo Casa House) while Barbie is alive. In fact, she can revoke the transfer-on-death deed anytime by filing a revocation form at the same county clerk's office.

Giving a Life Estate in Property

Barbie may consider granting Ken a life estate in her house. A life estate gives a life tenant (Ken) the right to enjoy the property during his life, but he cannot sell or mortgage the property. After Ken's death, his interest dissolves, and the property reverts to another owner, called the remainderman. So Barbie could give Ken a life estate, and when he dies, ownership of the property goes to someone else or a charity that Barbie designates.

A few states allow enhanced life estates, called Lady Bird deeds, which allow the life estate holder control of the property, so if Barbie gave Ken a Lady Bird deed, he could sell or lease the property.

Giving Real Estate Through a Living Trust

Barbie could also create a living trust. A living or revocable trust holds property for your benefit or someone you name. So Barbie could put her house in a trust for her benefit during her life and name Ken as the beneficiary of the property after her death. You can update, change, or revoke your trust anytime during your life.

Owning Property as Joint Tenants With Right of Survivorship

If Barbie wanted to own the property with Ken as joint tenants with right of survivorship, the property automatically transfers to Ken upon her death. However, this type of joint tenancy must meet “four unities." If not, Barbie and Ken would be tenants in common, and her interest in the property goes through probate.

If Barbie and Ken married, they could own the property as a tenancy by the entirety. This ownership is only available in some states. When Barbie or Ken dies, the surviving spouse owns the property without the property going through probate.

Other Considerations for Unmarried Couples

Married couples enjoy certain benefits over unmarried couples when one partner dies. For example, receiving benefits from retirement plans and social security and unlimited marital deductions. And if Barbie died without a will, she is intestate, and her estate goes to her family members following state intestacy laws, excluding Ken completely.

Therefore, unmarried couples should prepare for the future with an estate plan. In addition to a last will and testament, there are other estate planning legal documents that unmarried couples should think about:

  • health care directive granting each other health care decision-making powers with a health care proxy and a living will to detail their end-of-life decisions.
  • durable power of attorney giving each other the power to make financial decisions if one is incapacitated or unable to manage financial affairs. As an agent, they could access bank accounts, pay bills, and manage investments and retirement accounts.

If you have your own dream house and are part of an unmarried couple, it is worth considering how you will leave it to your surviving partner. And you may consider other estate planning tools to help if you are ill or have an incapacity. You can get started on your estate planning goals with online state-specific estate planning documents or consulting an estate planning attorney for legal advice.

Related Resources:

Was this helpful?

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

Or contact an attorney near you:
Copied to clipboard