I’m asked many times by novice and experienced investors alike, “Do I need a will?”
“Well, it depends on what you want to happen” is my general response. Not everyone’s situation is the same and therefore they don’t need the same estate documents. But at a basic level I believe everyone should have an understanding of the process for wealth transfer based on the pre-death planning that has been done.
1. Will: If you have a will, your assets will first go through probate and then to the beneficiaries you have left in your will.
A will is the most basic and essential aspect of estate planning. It provides legal instructions for the division of property after the death of an individual. A person who has a valid will is known as a “testator.” The person instructed to carry out a will after the testator’s death is simply called an “executor.
Remember that a will does not supersede beneficiaries you designate of your Retirement Plans like 401k or pension plans, IRA/ Roth IRAs, Insurance Policies you may own. Whomever you have listed is whom those assets will go to. So, it’s important to check who you have listed as your beneficiaries and make any changes needed as your wants change.
2. No Will: If you have not created a will, your assets will go to probate where the probate court will appoint beneficiaries and then the assets will flow to them.
Why is this important? The probate process, especially when passing intestate (without a will), is lengthy and expensive. If an individual dies intestate, state statutes and a court appointed administrator determine how to divide his or her estate. Unless agreements are made between the inheritors, intestate divisions are usually split between the surviving spouse and adult children.
Many clients don’t like the idea of this because the court may not make the same decisions that they would have made. Also, since this is a lengthy process if your beneficiary may have liquidity issues.
3. Trust: If you have written a trust, your assets will flow directly to your beneficiaries. Skipping probate!
A “trust” is simply a legal entity created to hold property. An individual who creates a trust is called a “grantor.” Trusts are controlled by one or more “trustees” who operate them in the best way to help the predetermined “beneficiaries,” the individuals who receive trust assets.
Trusts provide much more flexibility compared to wills. A detailed trust allows a grantor to put any number of restrictions and or amendments to the distribution of their wealth.
Many people avoid estate planning because of the inconvenience of cost and the uncomfortable concept of their death. A plan and proper legal arrangements can keep unnecessary fees, taxes and court battles from occurring after death.
Contact an experienced lawyer or financial advisor about your plans and what else you can do to make your wishes are taken care of and your estate plan meets your financial needs.
This information is general in nature and may be subject to change. Financial professionals and other representatives are not authorized to give legal, tax or accounting advice. Applicable laws and regulations are complex and subject to change. Any tax statements in this material are not intended to suggest the avoidance of U.S. federal, state or local tax penalties. For advice concerning your individual circumstances, consult a professional attorney, tax advisor or accountant. .
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