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What Do You Need to Know about Wills?

Do Your Estate Planning in 2024!
If you die without a will, you die “intestate.” Your assets will be distributed according to your state’s law. That could result in a distribution you didn’t intend.

What do you need to know about wills?  For starters, some people mistakenly think that not having a will enables their assets to bypass the time and expense of probate.  That’s 100% not true–if you die without a will, your property still must go through probate when there is no surviving joint owner or designated beneficiary. At public seminars Beck, Lenox & Stolzer conducts, we have to correct that assumption every time!

A good article on this topic is from FedWeek entitled “Expressing Your Will with a Will.”

You really should have a will.

If probate avoidance is a concern, you can create a trust. By using a revocable trust, you can retain control over the trust assets while you are alive.

The assets placed in trust during your lifetime can be distributed at your death, under the instructions of the trust, without going through probate.

After you draft a will, do not forget about it.

Significant life events, like births, deaths, marriages and divorces, all may raise the need to revisit your last wishes.

After each change, be certain that your current will is both safe and accessible. A safe in your home or the freezer compartment of your refrigerator are common places to store it.

You might choose to leave your will with your executor, especially if you name a financial institution rather than an individual.

If you decide to keep your will somewhere else, your executor and other loved ones should know where it is.

The estate planning attorney who prepared your will should have a copy, as well as a memo stating the location of the original. A copy is good to know what is in contained within the will, but can’t be used to execute the will so you need to be very careful about the will’s location. With Beck, Lenox & Stolzer, our current practice is to create a binder for you, with the originals in an envelope. In a particular section of the binder, we will leave a space for you to document where you have stored your original will.

Regardless of where you put your will, you should have another document for your funeral and burial instructions. Wills are typically not read until days or weeks after death, so it will not help your family make decisions about a funeral or a memorial service. As a result, a separate letter should be drafted to state your final wishes. Your executor should know where these instructions can be located.

A final comment- Even if you have a trust created, a “pour-over” will is needed. This will allows any asset that was not titled in the name of the trust to get poured into the trust. This often happens if someone had lots of CDs or bank accounts and forgot about one or more of them. Without that pour-over action, probate would be still needed for that forgotten asset.

What do you need to know about wills?  Quite a bit, as you can see. It’s always advisable to consult with an estate planning attorney like one at Beck, Lenox & Stolzer in order to make sure everything has been considered.

Reference: FedWeek (Feb. 22, 2022) “Expressing Your Will with a Will”


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