Most people have heard of a will and many assume that it's the basic estate planning document. Others assume it's the only document necessary to settle an estate. The will is a necessary document. While passing on assets typically requires a probate will, your family will at least have a legal document establishing the manner in which assets will pass to named beneficiaries.
While a will can take care of many things, there are some assets not covered by this legal document. As a general rule, wills only cover assets that you own, such as your belongings and assets that are titled in your name. Wills do not govern other legally binding documents that have the ability to “stand on their own” without the need for a Will.
One example of this type of asset is life insurance. A life insurance policy is a legally binding document that names the beneficiary and the amount to be paid. Upon your death, the terms of this document will be executed without reference to a will, so it is considered separate and will not be subject to the probate process. The same is true of retirement plans.
There are also other assets that may have TOD (‘transfer on death’) and POD (‘paid on death’) attached to them, such as bank accounts and savings bonds. This means that upon death, these assets will be transferred or paid to your nominated beneficiaries, regardless of what your will might say.
Any assets jointly owned will also pass automatically to the other person upon your death. The will does not direct this. Now, even though the above assets are not covered by a will, it’s still advisable to have one.
A will can cover a variety of property, ensuring that your belongings and assets are distributed the way you want. It can also establish a trust for minor or disabled dependents, leave money to charity, and handle a number of other issues upon your death.
Knowing what is and what is not covered by your will is the first step in planning your estate. Because each person is different, it’s best to have a good estate planning attorney guiding you through the process. The estate planning lawyers at Anderson, Dorn & Rader, Ltd. can help!