Wills have always been the centerpiece of an estate plan, but an estate plan that contains only a will and nothing else may not be the best choice, especially when it comes to providing convenience and expediency for your beneficiaries. There are a number of legal means that can help keep some of your property out of probate, and even the best-written wills have limitations. For more information about what a will can and cannot do, read on.
The Will Takes a Backseat
There are at least 3 tactics and provisions that can not only help keep the designated property out of probate, but will promote your financial privacy. The following provisions automatically override a will, regardless of when the will was written or updated or of specific mention of the same property. In other words, if you leave the contents of your bank account to an aunt in your will, but have a Transfer On Death (TOD) designation on the account itself that transfers the contents to a son, the TOD takes precedence.
1. Trusts. A trust is very similar to a will, in that you appoint a trustee to administer the trust instead of an executor and you name beneficiaries. A trust is set up while the owner is still living and is always under that owner's control until their death, when the trustee takes over. Any property addressed in a trust does not need to be probated, even if the same property is mentioned in the will. Another big advantage of a trust is privacy, unlike a will, which is considered a public document, the trust is totally private. Even the other beneficiaries have no way of knowing the complete contents of the trust.
2. Deeds. You can add another person to any real estate while living, and the property automatically becomes that person's property upon your death.
3. Transfer on Death (TOD). This designation on bank accounts and investments accounts (sometimes referred to as "payable on death") allows the swift and simple transfer of the named property to the designated person or people. For example, you can add a TOD to a savings account at your bank that includes your 3 children, who will each be entitled to 33.3% of the contents of the account. There is no waiting for probate; a copy of the death certificate is all that is required.
Think Twice Before Using Your Will for Burial Plans
While many people believe that a will is an appropriate location for expressing their burial wishes, there are better ways. Sometimes wills are not located or accessed until later, when it could be too late to take the deceased's wishes into account when planning the funeral. A separate document altogether is recommended, preferably left in an easy-to-find location. Since one of the duties of your executor is to be responsible for ensuring that your burial wishes are followed, a copy of your wishes should be left with that appointed person, instead of in your will.
Consult with an estate planning attorney to learn more about the myriad of methods just like these to avoid probate and to make your passing as easy on your loved ones as possible.
Hello, I'm Christina Miller. Have you ever been fascinated with why the law works the way it does? Ever since I was in junior high, I had an intense interest in anything related to our legal system, whether it be a crime drama on television, a judge show or a legal case covered on the news. I followed it all. As time progressed, I began learning about how the actual legal system worked and not just the fictionalized version of our legal system. This has lead me to start writing my own blog posts about law that I hope will help others.