A last will and testament is a part of your estate plan, one of several essential documents to explain your wishes. However, a will is only the first step, and having an estate plan becomes more important as conditions and your life change says the article “Planning Ahead: Your estate plan does not end with a will” from The Times Herald.
Assets Need to Be Divided into Those Titled in Your Name Alone, Jointly Titled and Beneficiary Designations
There are different rules for how your assets are distributed upon your death. Looking at your assets and how they are owned will clarify what will happen when you pass. The review could be a surprise, especially if you haven’t updated designated beneficiaries in a while. You might be spared any shocks if you’re married and have traditionally titled assets.
If assets like your home, bank and investment accounts are titled jointly with your spouse (known as Tenants by the Entireties), those assets will pass directly to your spouse upon your death. If you have IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, or similar retirement accounts or life insurance policies, you likely named your spouse as the beneficiary. If you’ve remarried, make sure those beneficiaries are updated.
There are exceptions. You may have kept certain assets in your name only, especially if you have been married more than once. These generally will pass by will, unless they pass by beneficiary designation.
Consider how assets will pass if you become a widow or widower or are single or divorced. In most cases, your assets are mainly in your own name. You may not have named “secondary beneficiaries,” which you could have done when the original documents were drafted. It’s not too late to do this now.
Ask yourself if you want your adult children to inherit directly or if you want assets to go to grandchildren. Note that minors cannot inherit property, so talk with your estate planning attorney about creating a trust if you wish assets to go to grandchildren. When creating a trust, you can decide if you want the funds to be given to the beneficiaries in small sums over many years, when they reach certain milestones, or to be used solely for their education.
Consider the Entire Picture—Beneficiary Designations
Many people hold assets in the equity of their home or tax-deferred funds, like IRAs. Updating these beneficiary designations is a critical step for your estate plan. A difficulty might arise if you are single, divorced or widowed and don’t specify how you want these funds to be distributed.
Keep the Paperwork in a Safe Place
Once your paperwork for your will, life insurance and tax-deferred funds are completed, keep them in a safe place and tell your beneficiaries where they are located. Online access can be tricky or impossible. So many financial institutions have been bought and sold that we can’t count on their having documents properly archived.
Reference: The Times Herald (Jan. 14, 2024) “Planning Ahead: Your estate plan does not end with a will”