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Paul Premack, Express-News Banner

San Antonio Express-News
Copyright 2008, Paul Premack
June 10, 2008

Savings Bonds May Pass on Death 

Dear Mr. Premack: A few weeks ago your column said that stocks cannot be held in "transfer of death". Does that apply to savings bonds? If the owner of a savings bond has died and has no living relatives, who can claim the bond? NCO and DJA

A saving bond, though issued by the federal government, can be controlled by the bond’s owner. When the bond is issued, you have the option of putting it into your sole name or listing another person as co-owner.

The federal government does not use the phrase "transfer on death" but listing a co-owner has the same effect: the bond belongs to the survivor when either listed owner dies.

The survivor can redeem the bond or have it reissued in his/her sole name. TreasuryDirect requires a death certificate and a reissue request on their form PD F 4000, which can be submitted through your local bank (if they offer that service) or through the Federal Reserve Bank in Minneapolis.

If you do not list a co-owner, then when you die the bond becomes part of your probate estate. Hopefully you have a Will that clearly identifies the individuals or charities to whom you want the bonds to pass. If so, the Executor named in your Will can redeem the savings bonds just as you could have while alive: by endorsing the bonds as (for instance) "Bob Doe, Independent Executor, Estate of Sam Roe, deceased." The Executor must provide a death certificate and a Letter Testamentary issued by the probate court.

Creating a Will or a trust solves the problem of having no living relatives because you know who is important in your life. You may have no relatives (or none to whom you want the bonds to pass) but you can explicitly leave the bonds to anyone you choose -- close friends, charities or others. But you have to create an estate plan to put make those wishes binding.

If you do not make an estate plan to direct transfer of the bonds, then upon your death the laws of descent and distribution give the bonds to your heirs-at-law. You said you have "no living relatives" but you may not be casting the net as widely as did the legislature when it passed these laws.

For instance, if you have no spouse, no descendants, no parents, no siblings, no nephews and no nieces, state law then looks back two generations to your grandparents. If they are not alive then all the descendants of all four of your grandparents are considered to be your heirs-at-law. They can establish their claims using a variety of courtroom procedures.

If you never made an estate plan and truly have no heirs at law, then the bonds become subject to an escheat action by the state, that is, the state may take action in court to claim ownership of the bonds. Most people would consider that to be an undesirable result, so you’d better be sure to prepare a binding Will, trust or other legal plan with your attorney so you can direct the outcome instead of leaving it to the legislature.

Prior Column: Look to Affidavit of Heirship for Answers
Next Column: HIPAA Comments from Govt Too Reassuring

Disclaimer: This column answers a specific legal question asked by an individual in Texas. The answer may or may not match your individual situation. Be careful not to treat this column as specific legal advice, as it may not meet your individual needs. It may give you a solid basis for discussion with your own attorney.  You should consult with your personal attorney before you take any action on this or any legal issue. Also, please be aware that laws change, so  this column is valid only as of the date it was published. This communication does not create an attorney-client relationship between the author and the reader.


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