Do I Need More Than a Will?

If you die without a will (i.e., intestate), a court will determine who inherits your assets and who would care for any surviving children as a guardian.  CNBC’s recent article entitled “A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Here’s what else you need” explains that some assets pass outside of the will including retirement accounts and life insurance.

Start your estate planning with a will which is just one piece of an “estate plan.” Creating a plan for your assets helps make certain that your wishes will be carried out upon your death and that family grumbling doesn’t escalate into destroyed relationships. Here are some additional things about estate planning you should know.

What passes via your will. A will is a document that allows you to say who gets what when you die. However, there are some assets that pass outside of the will, such as retirement accounts like 401(k) plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs), and life insurance policies. As a result, the person named as a beneficiary on those accounts will get the money, no matter what your will says. Regular bank accounts also can have beneficiaries listed on a payable-on-death form, also known as a POD. If you own a home, check how it’s titled to ensure it ends up passing as you wish upon your death.

Executor. As part of the will-making process, you’ll need to name an executor of your will (sometimes called a personal representative). This entails making sure that assets are liquidated, the assets go to the proper beneficiaries, paying any debts not discharged and selling your home.

To prepare a will, you can hire an estate planning attorney in your local area, who knows state law. If use an online option, note that not all of the web-based alternatives will necessarily reflect the specifics of your state’s law. Online forms or software may not be compliant with your local law.

Living Will. An estate plan will typically include a few other legal documents, such as an advance health-care directive, also known as a living will. This document states your wishes, if you become incapacitated due to illness or injury, like whether you want to be kept on life support if there’s no hope of recovery.

Powers of Attorney. If you become incapacitated, your designated attorney-at-fact or agent will handle your medical and financial affairs. Similar to selecting an executor, be certain that he or she is trustworthy and smart, with the ability, skill set, time and desire to make such decisions and do these tasks.

Make a list of critical documents. Create an organized list of information your executor will need to settle your estate and include passwords, so your online accounts can be accessed.

Look at a trust. If you want your children or loved ones to receive money but don’t want to give a young adult or someone with poor money management free access to a lot of cash, you can create a trust for your beneficiaries. A trust holds assets on behalf of your beneficiaries, so they can only receive money according to how (or when) you’ve stated in the trust documents.

Again, it is important that you contact an experienced estate planning attorney to help you.

Reference: CNBC (July 27, 2020) “A will doesn’t cover all your bases when it comes to end-of-life decisions. Here’s what else you need”

 

Your Will Isn’t the End of Your Estate Planning

Even if your financial life is pretty simple, you should have a will. However, there’s more work to be done. Assets must be properly titled, so that assets are distributed as intended upon death.

Forbes’ recent article, “For Estate Plan To Work As Intended, Assets Must Be Properly Titled” notes that with the exception of the choice of potential guardians for children, the most important function of a will is to make certain that the transfer of assets to beneficiaries is the way you intended.

However, not all assets are disposed of by a will—they pass to beneficiaries regardless of the intentions stated in the will. Your will only controls the disposition of assets that fall within your probated estate.

An example of when a designated beneficiary controls the disposition of a financial asset is life insurance. Other examples are retirement accounts, such as a 401(k) or an IRA. When there’s a named beneficiary, assets will be distributed accordingly, which may be different than the intentions stated in a will.

The title of real estate controls its disposition. When property is jointly owned, how it is titled determines if the decedent’s interest in the property passes to the surviving partner, becomes part of the decedent’s estate, or passes to a third party. Titling of jointly owned property can be complicated in community property states.

In the same light, a revocable trust is an inter vivos or living trust that’s created during the grantor’s life, as part of an estate plan.

Such a trust can be used to ensure privacy, avoid the expenses and delays in the probate process and provide for continuity of asset management. A critical part of the planning is that the grantor must transfer (or retitle) assets to the trust.

Wills are very important in estate planning. To ensure that your estate plan fulfills your intentions, talk to an estate planning attorney about the proper titling of your assets.

Reference: Forbes (May 20, 2019) “For Estate Plan To Work As Intended, Assets Must Be Properly Titled”

 

How Should My Home be Titled with a Loved One?

Whether you’re single, coupled up, or married, deciding how to hold title to your family home is one of the most critical decisions home buyers make. The effects of that decision may not be apparent for years, says The Washington Post in the recent article, “What you need to know about holding title to a home with a loved one.”

There are three primary ways to title property between spouses. Joint tenancy is the least common and typically must include the language “with right of survivorship and not as tenants in common.” Spouses typically acquire title as “tenants by the entireties,” which only applies to spouses in a limited number of states.

When a couple acquires a home before marriage, in some states, a premarital joint tenancy automatically becomes tenants by the entireties, when they marry. However, the drawback to joint tenancy, is that it’s possible for one spouse’s interest to be alienated by deed or by a judgment lien or bankruptcy. In some states, a joint tenancy can be partitioned, so that the ownership can be separated.

A surviving spouse doesn’t have to do anything upon the death of a spouse, depending on how they held title to their home. Ask your estate planning attorney about any changes to the title of the property, to be certain that title is set up this way.

There are many ways married couples or those in a civil union can hold title to a home. Joint tenancy with rights of survivorship again gives each owner the ability to own the entirety of the home upon the death of the co-owner. This transfer is automatic and doesn’t require any paperwork or legal processing.

Tenancy by the entireties gives the couple the same survivorship rights as a joint tenancy deed, but it also affords the couple certain protections against some creditors. It provides that debts entered into by one of the spouses, shouldn’t cause the loss of the home.

The third form of ownership is to hold title as tenants in common. Here, each owner has a specific percentage ownership interest in the home. When a co-owner dies, that person’s share goes to the person designated in the will or by the laws in the state where the property’s located.

In addition to these three ways to hold title, there are also various estate planning trusts that can be used. Ask your estate planning attorney about what’s best for your specific situation.

Reference: The Washington Post (April 15, 2019) “What you need to know about holding title to a home with a loved one”