Estate Moves That Kill A Will

While a will will probably always stand as the best-known of all estate-planning devices, it is far from the complete package. Wills are useful, and it's certain that everyone needs one, but you should know that you can address estate planning using several will alternatives. The estate planning methods explained below will always override any provisions set forth in a will, no matter when the will was written or what property was left behind. Read on to learn more about these estate moves.

Trusts. These legal documents are surprisingly similar to a will, but are superior in a number of ways. The ways that they are different are also the reasons that you may prefer a trust instead of a will. First the similarities:

  • A person to administer the trust is appointed by the trust's owner. This person, called a trustee, fills the role that is quite like that of the executor (or personal representative).
  • The trust can name beneficiaries to inherit certain assets of the estate, just like in a will.
  • The trust can contain provisions for handling any type of property, from real estate to investment accounts, just like a will.

Trusts, however, have advantages over a will in the following ways:

  • There is no need to have a trust go through the probate process; the property addressed in the will can be given to the named beneficiaries immediately (as soon as death certificates are available).
  • The contents of a trust are completely confidential. No one needs to know who gets what, and even the other beneficiaries have no real way of knowing what anyone else is getting, unless someone wants them to know. This can sometimes help to alleviate contention and jealousy among the beneficiaries. Additionally, a probate filing means that the contents of a will are made public; trusts are never published.

Transfer-On-Death Designations. This is one of the easiest ways to ensure that money in checking, savings, and investment accounts go directly to a beneficiary without passing through probate. The owner of the account need only request that the bank or investment firm add a payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designation form with the desired name or names of who they wish to receive the funds in the account upon their death.

Deeds. There are several ways to change deeds to accommodate the real estate owner's wishes after their death. Names can be added with various provisions that protect the owner (right of survivorship) and that allow the property to transfer seamlessly to a named beneficiary. It should be noted that if the property owner is married, seamless transfer to someone other than their spouse may not be possible.

Speak to a probate attorney at a law firm like Wilson Deege Despotovich Riemenschneider & Rittgers for more information.