If you change your mind after you record a transfer-on-death deed that leaves your real estate to someone at your death, you can revoke the deed. Because a TOD deed doesn't take effect until your death, the beneficiary has absolutely no rights over the property while you're still alive. That means you're free to revoke the TOD deed anytime during your lifetime.
But first, a caution: Don't use your will to try to revoke a transfer-on-death deed. It won't work.
EXAMPLE: Cara records a TOD deed leaving her house to her niece Emily, who has been a great help to her during a serious illness. In her will, she leaves everything else to her son, who lives far away. Years later, when Cara gets around to revising her will, she decides that her son should inherit the house after all. In her will, she states that he is to inherit the house. When Cara dies, Emily will automatically own the house, despite what the will says. This is because a transfer-on-death deed overrides any conflicting gifts in a will.
Revoking a TOD deed is simple to do. Below are a few ways you can cancel the effect of your TOD deed.
The best way to make your intention crystal clear is to make a simple document revoking the TOD deed. You will need to finalize the revocation in the same way you finalized the original TOD deed. This means that in most states, you would:
Once you've followed these steps, the public records will show that the deed was revoked.
Generally, all of the living co-owners who signed the original TOD deed should sign the revocation. If not, you might create two different outcomes in some states, depending on how you own the property with your co-owner.
EXAMPLE: Joyce and Eric own their house in tenancy by the entirety, which gives each of them the right of survivorship. They sign and record a TOD deed together, leaving the house to their daughter. Later, Joyce records a revocation on her own. If she dies first, Eric will be the sole owner. Because he didn't sign the revocation, it will have no effect, and their daughter will inherit the property when Eric dies. (But if Eric had died first, Joyce would have become the sole owner. The revocation would then have effect.)
More than half of the states that allow TOD deeds set out the exact language for a revocation in their state's transfer-on-death deed laws. This "statutory form" for the revocation is usually quite simple; you can simply fill in the blanks with information about yourself and the property. So if you want to revoke your TOD deed, you can start by looking up your state's TOD deed statute to see if it conveniently provides the language for you.
Below is an example of Arkansas' revocation. Arkansas has a particularly simple form for a TOD deed revocation, which is set out in Arkansas Code § 18-12-608. (Note that Arkansas calls its transfer-on-death deeds by a different name: "beneficiary deeds.")
Revocation of Beneficiary Deed
CAUTION: THIS REVOCATION MUST BE RECORDED PRIOR TO THE DEATH OF THE GRANTOR IN ORDER TO BE EFFECTIVE.
The undersigned hereby revokes the beneficiary deed recorded on July 19, 2018, instrument number 3388449, records of Lane County, Arkansas.
Dated: September 4, 2022
Signature of grantor(s): Marilee N. Simmons
You can also simply sign and record a new TOD deed, leaving the property to someone else. Most states' laws specifically say that if there is more than one TOD deed, only the most recent one is valid. It's still clearer, however, to record a revocation and then a new TOD deed.
During your lifetime, you're always free to give away or sell the property, even if you made a TOD deed naming a beneficiary for the property at your death. If you no longer own the property at your death, the TOD deed will simply have no effect, and the beneficiary will have no rights to the property.