It sounds like it goes against popular wisdom, but you could conceivably get by without a will-or just use a will to divide the personal items that might be argued over by various family members!
As I mentioned in my last blog article, an estate is divided into probate assets and non-probate assets. A probate asset has to be determined by the courts-either under the direction of a will or through what’s called an administration if no will exists. But it is possible for you to take some of your traditional probate assets and pass them to your heirs without a will. How would you do that? Let’s take some common elements of an estate and discuss how this can work.
For a house: There are several options to consider that can distribute a house without formal probate. You can pass title by drafting a Lady Bird Deed. This is something often used when a parent is getting older and wants to name where the homestead will go without giving up ownership at that time. Another deed that was introduced a few years ago is the Revocable Transfer on Death Deed. Both of these options involve some individualized questions about the grantee’s estate, so it is wise to consult with an attorney rather than attempting to draft these documents yourself.
For a car: A right of survivorship document can allow your car to transfer to the designated person upon your death. If you have the title to the car you can indicate this directly on the title. If you are still making payments, you can see what options your creditor offers.
For a bank account: Although this is an asset that most people have, very few realize that at the time of opening their account, they can designate where (of whom) the account funds will go to after death. You can do this by filling out a Payable of Death certificate with your local institution. It is often common for a couple to open an account together. When you do this, you have a choice to designate whether the account has survivorship benefits, meaning that the surviving owner takes control over all the funds after the other owner passes away. As I talk with older individuals about financial accounts, I am often told that they have added a child to their account. Be cautious, for once you name a joint owner, the person named is an owner. In my opinion, this is a great example of something that should be discussed with an estate planning attorney,
Of course, for assets like life insurance policies or retirement accounts, traditionally non-probate assets, it’s typical to name beneficiaries upon initiating the policy or account. These can, of course, change over time, and a person can award percentages to a spouse and to each child, sibling, cousin, etc., as he or she sees fit. But once the person dies, what’s in the records is how those awards are apportioned, so it’s a good idea to keep on top of your beneficiaries for each of these kinds of accounts.
Can this work for you? To be sure, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to discuss your legal needs. Oftentimes, people who come in with the intention of creating a will come away with legal documents that will prove essential while they’re still alive, as well the documents that best secure a future for their spouses and children.