Planning Your Legacy

Learn Which of Your Assets Are Not Covered in a Will

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Did you know that there are some things you can’t include in your will? Or, if you do, any directives you give about the distribution of those assets aren’t enforceable because there are separate rules that govern what happens with them independent of anything that your will says.

Here’s a list of property and assets that aren’t covered by a will. These assets go directly to the beneficiaries named – they do not have to go through probate.

Retirement plan assets from plans like IRAs and 401(k)s

When you create these retirement accounts, you complete a beneficiary designation form that states who any remaining assets should go to in the event of your death.

Life insurance policy proceeds

Life insurance policies have a space for you to designate beneficiaries.

Annuities

This insurance investment tool has you designate beneficiaries for any money left in the annuity after your death.

Payable on Death (POD) bank accounts

POD accounts can be set up for checking and savings account, money markets, CDs and savings deposits. You name beneficiaries who will receive the money in the account at your death.

Transfer on Death (TOD) investment accounts

These are stocks, bonds and brokerage accounts that provide the same advantages as POD bank accounts.

Property that has joint tenancy with rights of survivorship

This means that two or more owners hold title to an asset together, such as a house. If one owner dies, the asset goes directly to the surviving owner.

If you have a revocable living trust

If you're wondering what happens to a living trust after death, the assets in the trust will go directly to the designated trustees and also are not governable by a will. Keep in mind, however, that if you want to list the trust as beneficiary of any of the assets listed above, you’ll need to check about the rules for each specific account. For example, beneficiaries for IRAs and 401(k)s have to be real people and cannot be a trust.

Don't set it and forget it

Many people treat assets like these as a “set it and forget it” when they name beneficiaries. What you need to keep in mind is scenarios like the following:

When you start your job, you name your spouse as beneficiary of your 401(k). Two years later, you get divorced. You update your will to make sure that none of your assets go to your ex, but you forget about that 401(k) beneficiary designation form.

Fast forward to decades in the future. Upon your death, any money left in that retirement account is not going to go to your kids, your new spouse or any other beneficiary named in your updated will – it’s going to go to your ex, because you never remembered to change the beneficiary designation.

Don’t let this sort of thing happen to you. The best way to make sure your property and assets are given to the people you want after your death is to regularly check all your estate planning documents and beneficiary designation forms to make sure they are up-to-date. An estate attorney can help you understand how to do this — and other estate planning tasks.

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