Clients with a Last Will and Testament have often specified that their assets are to be distributed equally between their heirs, only to learn after a thorough estate planning review, that their even-handed intentions would not be carried out as they wish. Your Will may claim that property is to be divided equally, but if a life insurance policy, or your IRA, does not account for your youngest child, for example, or you have added one child as a joint owner to help out with your bank account, but not the others, your will does not undo those transfers and even out your childrens’ inheritance.
A comprehensive estate planning review is a necessary step toward protecting our loved ones after we pass away according to our wishes. As the scenario above indicates, this review requires more than simply preparing a will (or living trust), though that is of course an essential component of any estate plan.
An estate planning attorney can assist you in thinking through all of your assets and can advise regarding the best way to make sure that your goals are met, your wishes carried out.
Here are a few specific areas of focus for any estate planning review:
Bank/Brokerage Accounts: Many banks and brokerage accounts allow you to name a payable on death beneficiary. Some will allow you to name multiple beneficiaries. These designations will allow a transfer upon your death that your Will does not effect. Adding a joint owner to accounts facilitates a similar transfer. Sometimes adding your oldest child on your bank account is a good way to make sure your bills are paid as you become unable to handle your affairs on your own. But once you pass away, that transfer can create an imbalance among the inheritance of any other children.
Life Insurance: Life insurance beneficiaries that you designate also receive funds in a way that is untouched by your will. Estate planning clients often add a child as a beneficiary on their life insurance policy but forget to update the policies when they have additional children. Once you pass away, the designated beneficiary will have access to the policy but unnamed children will not.
Retirement Accounts: Retirement accounts accounts typically allow you to name a beneficiary (often it must be your spouse). Similar to the life insurance concerns above, if you have children, adopt children, or marry someone with children after you made your initial designations, your wishes may not be accounted for. Those outdated designations, and not your will, will control the distribution of your retirement account.
Real Estate: How your home is titled may determine its ownership after you pass away, regardless of what your will says. If you own a home jointly with a right of survivorship, for example, the other co-owners will inherit your share. If it is owned jointly as tenants in common, your share will pass on to your heirs, and not necessarily to the other co-owners.
A comprehensive review of your estate plan – including review of your life insurance and retirement designations, bank account ownership, and real property deeds – can help ensure that your wishes are carried out after you pass away. A Last Will and Testament is a necessary, but not sufficient, component of your plan.
Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.