Your probate estate consists only of the assets subject to your will, or to a state’s intestacy laws if you have no will, and over which the probate court (in some jurisdictions referred to as surrogate’s or orphan’s court) may have authority. This is why reviewing beneficiary designations, in addition to preparing a will, is a critical part of the estate planning process. It is important to note that whether property is part of your probate estate has nothing to do with whether property is part of your taxable estate for estate tax purposes.
Aside from providing for the intended disposition of your property upon your death, a number of other important objectives may be accomplished in your will.
- You may designate a guardian for your minor child or children if you are the surviving parent and thereby minimize court involvement in the care of your child. Also, by the judicious use of a trust and the appointment of a trustee to manage property funding that trust for the support of your children, you may eliminate the need for bonds (money posted to secure a trustee’s properly carrying out the trustee’s responsibilities) as well as avoid supervision by the court of the minor children’s inherited assets.
- You may designate an executor (personal representative) of your estate in your will, and eliminate their need for a bond. In some states, the designation of an independent executor, or the waiver of otherwise applicable state statutes, will eliminate the need for court supervision of the settlement of your estate.
- You may choose to provide for persons whom the state’s intestacy laws would not otherwise benefit, such as stepchildren, godchildren, friends or charities.
- If you are acting as the custodian of assets of a child or grandchild under the Uniform Gift (or Transfers) to Minors Act (often referred to by their acronyms, UGMA or UTMA), you may designate your successor custodian and avoid the expense of a court appointment.
Turner Law Firm, PLLC can assist throughout the entire will planning process.
This type of separate document can create potential confusion or challenges if it is inconsistent with the terms of the will or prepared in a haphazard manner. Trust Turner Law, PLLC firm to be thorough.
Frequently, people (particularly in older age) will title bank accounts or securities in the names of themselves and one or more children or trusted friends as joint tenants with right of survivorship. This is sometimes done as a matter of convenience to give the joint tenant access to accounts to pay bills. It is important to realize that the ownership of property in this fashion often leads to unexpected or unwanted results. Disputes, including litigation, are common between the estate of the original owner and the surviving joint tenant as to whether the survivor’s name was added as a matter of convenience or management or whether a gift was intended. The planning built into a well-drawn will may be partially or completely thwarted by an inadvertently created joint tenancy that passes property to a beneficiary by operation of law, rather than under the terms of the will. In some instances, a power of attorney document giving the trusted person the power to act on your behalf as your agent with regard to the account in order to pay bills will achieve your intended goal without disrupting your intended plans regarding to whom the account will ultimately pass.
Many of these problems also are applicable to institutional revocable trusts and “pay on death” forms of ownership of bank, broker, and mutual fund accounts and savings bonds. Effective planning requires knowledge of the consequences of each property interest and technique.
In many instances, consumers prepare wills believing that the will governs who will inherit their assets when in fact, the title (ownership) of various accounts or real property, for example, as joint tenants, or beneficiary designations for IRAs, life insurance and certain other assets control the distribution of most or even all assets. This is why merely addressing your will is rarely sufficient to accomplish your goals as a total estate plan.
If you create a trust, you are described as the trust’s grantor or settlor. A trust created by a will is called a testamentary trust, and the trust provisions for such a trust are contained in your will. A trust created during your lifetime is called a living trust or an inter vivos trust, and the trust provisions are contained in the trust agreement or declaration. The provisions of a living trust or inter vivos trust (rather than your will or state law default rules) usually will determine what happens to the property in the trust upon your death.
A trust created during lifetime may be revocable, which means it may be revoked or changed by the settlor, or irrevocable, which means it cannot be revoked or changed by the settlor. Either type of trust may be designed to accomplish the purposes of property management, assistance to the settlor in the event of physical or mental incapacity, and disposition of property after the death of the settlor of the trust with the least involvement possible by the probate (surrogate or orphan’s) court.
Trusts are not only for the wealthy. Many young parents with limited assets choose to create trusts either during life or in their wills for the benefit of their children in case both parents die before all their children have reached an age deemed by the parents to indicate sufficient maturity to handle property (which often is older than the age of majority under state law). Trusts permits the trust assets to be held as a single undivided fund to be used for the support and education of minor children according to their respective needs, with eventual division of the trust among the children when the youngest has reached a specified age. This type of arrangement has an obvious advantage over an inflexible division of property among children of different ages without regard to their level of maturity or individual needs at the time of such distribution.
For More Information, See Planning With Retirement Benefits: General Information for Plan Participants. This is a brochure published by the ABA.
If you are entitled to start receiving retirement benefits during your lifetime, the various payment options will be treated differently for income tax purposes. You should seek competent advice as to the payment options available under your retirement plan and the tax consequences of each.
(a) designate one or more beneficiaries to receive the insurance proceeds upon your death, or
(b) make the proceeds payable to your probate estate or to a trust created by you during your lifetime or by your will.
If insurance proceeds are payable to your estate, they will be distributed as part of your general estate in accordance with the terms of your will or, if you die without a will, according to the applicable state laws of intestate succession. If the proceeds are payable to a trust, they will be held and distributed in the same manner as the other trust assets and may be protected from creditors’ claims. Insurance proceeds that are payable directly to a minor child generally will necessitate the court appointment of a legal guardian or conservator. This can be avoided by naming a trust or custodial account under the state transfers-to-minors law as the beneficiary. Trusts often are used for insurance proceeds, even if the trust beneficiary is not a minor, to protect the assets from a creditors, divorce, to provide income tax planning and distribution flexibility, and to provide centralized or professional management of the proceeds.
Insurance plays an important role in financial, retirement and estate planning and should be coordinated with all other aspects of your estate plan. The laws pertaining to the taxability of insurance proceeds are complex, so it is important that all matters pertaining to life insurance be carefully reviewed with your attorney and insurance advisor. For example, your insurance coverage should be reviewed at least every two or three years to assure that the policy is performing as intended, the insurance company remains in solid financial position, and that the ownership of the policy and its beneficiary designations still comport with your wishes. Turner Law Firm, PLLC can assist you and ask all the right, pertinent questions.