TOD Accounts Versus Revocable Trusts – Which Is Better?
Both help you pass down assets while avoiding the time and expense of probate, but one comes with a lot more flexibility than the other.
What is a TOD account or POD account?
A TOD account allows the account holder to name a beneficiary on a non-retirement financial account to receive assets at the time of the account holder’s death, thereby (generally – i.e., when used correctly) avoiding probate. A TOD account generally handles distributing stocks, brokerage accounts or bonds to the named beneficiary when the account holder dies.
Both TOD and POD accounts are quick and dirty ways of avoiding probate, which can be slow, expensive, public and possibly messy. Financial institutions offer TOD and POD at their discretion. But, almost all major brokerage houses and investment houses now have these types of accounts, as well as most banks for standard bank accounts. Many even allow you name such a beneficiary easily online.
What is the benefit of using a POD or TOD account?
Probate avoidance. As mentioned, TOD and POD accounts avoid the probate process by naming a beneficiary or beneficiaries to receive the asset directly when the account owner dies. They distribute assets quickly and (usually) seamlessly to the intended beneficiary when the account owner dies.
What are the pitfalls to using a POD or TOD account?
When someone passes away, there can be creditors, expenses of administering the decedent’s estate, and taxes owed. The person or persons responsible for administering the decedent’s estate are typically empowered under the law to seek contributions from the POD and TOD beneficiaries to pay those debts, expenses, and taxes. If the beneficiaries do not voluntarily contribute, then there may be no choice but to file a lawsuit to obtain the contributions.
In addition to the beneficiary choosing not to contribute, the beneficiary may have spent those assets, have other circumstances, such as involvement in a lawsuit or a divorce, that will complicate turning over those assets, be a minor or otherwise legally incompetent, or be the recipient of government benefits. All of these circumstances will cause complications.
Revocable trusts give you much more than probate avoidance.
A trust allows you to plan for incapacity. If the creator of the trust becomes incapacitated, a successor or co-trustee can take over managing the account for the benefit of the creator. With a POD or TOD account, a durable power of attorney would be needed to have another person handle the account. Many times, financial institutions can be reluctant to accept powers of attorney, for example, if the documents are old or do not have the appropriate language.
While in some cases POD and TOD accounts can be appropriate for probate avoidance, their limitations at addressing other issues can cause many individuals to opt for a revocable trust. Speak with an estate planner to determine what is best for you and your family.
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