What’s Better, A Living Trust or a Will?
A Living Trust Usually is Better Than a Will

What’s Better, A Living Trust or a Will?

Everyone knows what a last will and testament is. However, a will is not always the best way to distribute your assets, explains the Times Herald-Record in the article “Living trusts are better choice than wills.” Most people think that by having a will alone, they will make it clear who they want to receive their assets when they die. However, wills are used by the court in a proceeding called “probate,” if the only estate plan you have is a will. The court proceeding is to establish that the will is valid. Depending upon where you live, probate can take a year before assets are distributed to beneficiaries.

Certain family members must receive notifications, when a will is submitted to probate. Some people will receive notices, even if they are not mentioned in the will. This can lead to all kinds of awkward situations, especially from estranged or unknown relatives. The person who is the executor of the will is required to locate these relatives, and until they are found and notified, the probate process comes to a standstill.

There are instances where a judge will allow a legal notice to be published in a local newspaper, after valid attempts to find relatives aren’t successful. If there is a disabled beneficiary, a minor beneficiary, a relative or beneficiary who can’t be located, or a relative who has been incarcerated, the judge often appoints lawyers to represent these parties’ interests and the estate pays for the attorney’s fees.

Depending on the situation, the executor may be required to furnish a family tree, or a friend of the decedent must sign an affidavit attesting that the person never had any children.

Thinking of disinheriting a child? Anyone who is disinherited in a will, receives a notice about that and is legally permitted to contest the will. That can lead to years of expensive litigation, including discovery demands, depositions, motions and possibly a trial. Like most litigation, will contests usually end in a settlement. The disinherited relative often gets a share of the inheritance, even when the decedent didn’t want them to get anything.

For many families, a living trust is a better alternative. They also serve as disability planning, naming people who will manage the assets of the trust, in case of incapacity. They are private documents, so their information does not become public knowledge, like the details of a will.

A qualified estate planning attorney will help you determine what estate planning tools will work best to achieve your goals, while maintaining your privacy and ensuring that assets pass to heirs in a discrete manner.

In many situations a living trust should be part of an estate plan.

Reference: Times Herald-Record (Oct. 26, 2019) “Living trusts are better choice than wills”

Do I Need a Beneficiary for my Checking Account?
Beneficiary Designations are Part of Good Estate Planning

Do I Need a Beneficiary for my Checking Account?

When you open up most investment accounts, you’ll be asked to designate a beneficiary. This is an individual who you name to benefit from the account when you pass away. Does this include checking accounts?

Investopedia’s recent article asks “Do Checking Accounts Have Beneficiaries?” The article explains that unlike other accounts, banks don’t require checking account holders to name beneficiaries. However, even though they’re not needed, you should consider naming beneficiaries for your bank accounts, if you want to protect your assets.

Banks usually offer their customers payable-on-death (POD) accounts. This type of account directs the bank to transfer the customer’s money to the beneficiary. The money in a POD bank account usually becomes part of a person’s estate when they die but is not included in probate, when the account holder dies.

To claim the money, the beneficiary just has to present herself at the bank, prove her identity and show a certified copy of the account holder’s death certificate.

You should note that if you are married and have a checking account converted into a POD-account and live in a community property state, your spouse automatically will be entitled to half the money they contributed during the marriage—despite the fact that another beneficiary is named after the account holder passes away. Spouses in non-community property states have a right to dispute the distribution of the funds in probate court.

If you don’t have the option of a POD account, you could name a joint account holder on your checking account. This could be a spouse or a child. You can simply have your bank add another name on the account. Be sure to take that person with you, because they’ll have to sign all their paperwork.

An advantage of having a joint account holder is that there’s no need to name a beneficiary, because that person’s name is already on the account. He or she will have access and complete control over the balance. However, a big disadvantage is that you have to share the account with that person, who may be financially irresponsible and leave you in a bind.

Remember, even though you may name a beneficiary or name a joint account holder, you should still draft a will. Speak with a qualified estate planning attorney to make sure about all your affairs, even if your accounts already have beneficiaries.

Beneficiary designations are part of good overall estate planning.

Reference: Investopedia (August 4, 2019) “Do Checking Accounts Have Beneficiaries?”

Do Name Changes Need to Be Made in Estate Planning Documents?
Changing Estate Planning Documents When Beneficiary Changes Name

Do Name Changes Need to Be Made in Estate Planning Documents?

When names change, executing documents with the person’s prior name can become problematic. For example, what about a daughter who was named as a health care representative by her parents several years ago, who marries and changes her name? Then, to make matters more complicated, add the fact that the couple’s daughter-in-law has the same first name, but a different middle name. That’s the situation presented in the article “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan” from nwi.com.

When a person’s name changes, many documents need to be changed, including items like driver’s licenses, passports, insurance policies, etc. So do your estate planning documents. The change of a name isn’t just about the person who created the estate plan but also to their executors, heirs, beneficiaries and those who have been named with certain legal powers through power of attorney (POA) and health care power of attorney.

It’s not an unusual situation, but it does have to be addressed. It’s pretty common to include additional identifiers in the estate planning documents. For example, let’s say the will says I leave my house to my daughter Samantha Roberts. If Samantha gets married and changes her last name, it can be reasonably assumed that she can be identified. In some cases, the document may be able to stay the same.

In other instances, the difference will be incorporated through the use of the acronym AKA—Also Known As. That is used when a person’s name is different for some reason. If the deed to a home says Mary Green, but the person’s real name is Mary G. Jones, the term used will be Mary Green A/K/A Mary G. Jones.

Sometimes when a person’s name has changed completely, another acronym is use: N/K/A, or Now Known As. For example, if Jessica A. Gordon marries or divorces and changes her name to Jessica A. Jones, the phrase Jessica A. Gordon N/K/A Jessica A. Jones would be used.

However, in the situation noted above, most attorneys to want to have the estate planning documents changed to reflect the name change. First, there are two people in the family with similar names. It is possible that someone could claim that the person wished to name the other person. It may not be a strong case, but challenges have been made over smaller matters.

Second is that the estate planning document being discussed is a healthcare designation. Usually when a health care power of attorney form is being used, it’s in an emergency. Would a doctor make a daughter prove that she is who she says she is? It seems unlikely, but the risk of something like that happening is too great. It is much easier to simply have the document updated.

In most matters, when there is a name change, it’s not a big deal. However, in estate planning documents, where there are risks about being able to make decisions in a timely manner or to mitigate the possibility of an estate challenge, a name change to update documents is an ounce of prevention worth a pound of trouble in the future.

Making changes to your estate plan is easy.

Reference: nwi.com (October 20, 2019) “Estate Planning: Name changes and the estate plan”