“A traditional will could be the simplest but not necessarily the best way to pass on your legacy.”
A comprehensive estate plan is the best way to protect yourself during your lifetime and your family after you’ve passed. For many people, it’s tempting to think a simple will is all they need, as reported in a recent article, “Is a Will Really the Best Way to Pass an Inheritance to Your Family?” from The Motley Fool. This might be true if your estate is relatively small. However, there are good reasons to consider using a trust or other estate planning strategies.
A last will and testament is a binding document to allocate assets after death, assign guardianship for minor children, name an executor to manage your estate and convey other last wishes.
However, there are other considerations to an estate plan, including taxes, special needs of heirs and how quickly you want assets and property to be transferred. Your estate planning attorney can discuss how best to accomplish your goals once they are articulated.
One of the challenges of having only a will is probate. This court process authenticates a will and gives the named executor the power to manage the estate and eventually distribute assets. Probate can be a long, costly and public process when assets are unavailable to heirs.
In some jurisdictions, probate is a matter of months. In others, it can be years before probate is completed if the estate is complicated.
Most people don’t know this, but wills in probate become part of the public record. Anyone can see everything in your will, including who you leave property to and how much they receive.
An alternative is the living trust. This document establishes a legal entity to hold assets during your lifetime. The trustee can be yourself and a secondary trustee. The trustee administers the trust according to your wishes, which are established in the language of the trust.
Depending upon your state, your estate planning attorney can put a provision moving assets into the trust after your death, in case any asset is accidentally forgotten and not moved into the trust.
Living trusts are also revocable, meaning they can be amended or revoked at any point during your lifetime. This provides a great deal of flexibility.
Joint ownership is another option used mainly by married spouses. Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship (JTWRS) is a popular way to own property. Assets owned jointly transfer directly to the surviving spouse (or joint owner) without the need for probate.
Just as everyone’s life is different, everyone’s estate plan is different. State law varies, and the size and complexity of your estate will influence how your estate plan is structured. Your best bet might be a mixture of wills, trusts and joint ownership arrangements. An experienced estate planning attorney can create a comprehensive estate plan to suit your and your family’s needs.
Reference: The Motley Fool (September 4, 2023) “Is a Will Really the Best Way to Pass an Inheritance to Your Family?”