SALSA recently hosted its first ever Transfer on Death Deed (“TODD”) Clinic in partnership with the Mexican American Unity Council (“MAUC”). A TODD is very simply, a legal document filed with the county clerk that operates to automatically transfer title to real property upon a person’s death, removing the need for that property to go through the probate process and potentially preventing delays if the property must be sold or transferred right away. In many cases, the family home is the largest asset a family possesses. While those from affluent families usually have the means to hire legal counsel to perform estate planning, those from indigent and vulnerable communities may not have the means to hire an attorney to make sure that the family home will seamlessly pass to the next generation. When there is no instrument to pass title to a home—such as a will, a trust, or some other kind of deed–the property will pass via the laws of intestacy, which may create numerous heirs to properties, complicating any transfer or sale, and may also subject the transfer to significant delay through the probate process.
Some of the issues that families face when a property is an heirs property include uncertainty as to who is supposed to pay property taxes, non-payment of property taxes that can lead to tax foreclosure, uncertainty as to who is supposed to pay a mortgage or other lien on the property, non-payment of a mortgage or other lien than can lead to foreclosure, inability to secure a loan to maintain or otherwise fix up the house, which is especially significant in San Antonio’s older neighborhoods where houses built sometimes up to 100 years ago require major renovations to remain livable. These properties may be subject to unscrupulous investors who pit family members against one another and offer low-ball prices as they try to invest in up-and-coming neighborhoods. All of these issues exacerbate low-income communities’ host of other legal issues, frequently keeping them below the poverty line and unable to promote generational wealth. With all of this in mind, SALSA and its partners realized that we could start to make an impact by helping people plan in advance to avoid these issues with the use of a TODD. We realized that if we could promote education and planning, we could help some of San Antonio’s most vulnerable populations maintain clear title, or at least create traceable title.
The TODD Clinic evolved from discussions between the San Antonio Bar Association Real Estate Section, MAUC, the San Antonio Board of REALTORS®, UTSA Westside Community Partnerships, LISC San Antonio, the City of San Antonio and St. Mary’s University School of Law. Working together, it became clear that the issue of unclear title and heirs properties negatively affects San Antonio’s low-income populations for generations, and few, if any, resources have been provided to assist in preventing this problem. For SALSA’s first-ever TODD clinic in May 2022, clients were initially screened for income qualifications prior to the clinic. After being qualified, our partners at Hollerbach and Associates provided title reports for each client, which allowed the volunteer attorneys who met with the clients the ability to accurately advise each client on their current title status prior to drafting the TODD. After volunteer attorneys drafted the necessary TODDs, volunteer notaries notarized the TODDs, and the Bexar County Clerk’s office, who was present at the clinic, recorded the TODDs on the spot. We were so thankful to have the recording fees paid by our partners at LISC San Antonio. With all of these steps, clients experienced a complete service, finalized and filed before they left the building.
SALSA’s first TODD Clinic was a tremendous success, thanks in large part to the work and collaboration of our community partners and a fantastic group of attorney volunteers. SALSA looks forward to continuing to provide this important service to the community, preventing the title problems that plague our communities long before they begin.