Regardless of whether you use a Will or a Trust, the title on an asset or the language used in a beneficiary designation (for example, life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, 401-Ks and other retirement accounts or pay on death accounts) controls the results of the distribution of property. 

As a result, effective planning requires coordination of asset titles and beneficiary designations with your Will or Trust.

While a Last Will provides your instructions, it does not avoid probate.  Lack of a Will ensures probate in most cases.  In most every case, any assets titled in your name or directed by your Will, must go through your state's probate process before they can be distributed to your heirs.  (If you own real estate or timeshares in other states, your family will face multiple probates, each one according to the laws in that state.)

The probate process varies greatly from state to state.  There are expenses such as legal fees, Executor/Trustee fees, accounting/appraisal fees, and court costs.  The process can take anywhere from nine months to two years or longer.  Probate files are open to the public, allowing excluded heirs, relatives, and friends to obtain private information about your estate.  In short, the court system, not your family, controls the process.
However, not everything you own will go through probate.  Jointly-owned property and assets that name a beneficiary (for example, life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, 401-Ks and other retirement accounts or pay-on-death accounts) are not controlled by your Will and will transfer to the new owner or beneficiary without probate.  Keep in mind, however, there can be many problems with joint ownership, and avoidance of probate is not guaranteed.  For example, if a valid beneficiary is not named, the assets will have to go through probate and will be distributed along with the rest of your estate.  If you name a minor as a beneficiary, the court will probably insist on a guardian until the child becomes of legal age.

For the reasons described above, a Revocable Living Trust is often preferred by many families and professionals.  It can reflect your love and values to your family and future generations, provide maximum privacy, is valid in every state, and can be changed by you at any time.  If properly funded, it can provide care for you and your loved ones without court involvement during your incapacity, avoid probate at death (including multiple probates if you own real estate in other states) and coordinate your assets (even those with beneficiary designations) together into one plan.
Unlike a Will, a Trust does not “die” with you.  Assets can remain in your Trust, managed by the Trustee you selected, until your beneficiaries reach the designated age of inheritance.  Your Trust can continue to provide for a loved one, even those with special needs.  It can also protect assets from beneficiaries’ creditors, spouses, and those who may spend irresponsibly.
While a living Trust is more expensive to prepare than a Will, many people consider it a bargain, because it can avoid court costs and timely delays associated with incapacity and death.

All of our estate plans include the following ancillary documents:
Your Durable General Power of Attorney is designed to allow your agents to act in your stead to manage and conduct your affairs as you would do if acting personally.
This document leaves instructions on what to do if you become mentally or physically incompetent.  It also includes your wishes about termination of life support and your desires regarding organ donation.
The federal government has adopted laws to protect your privacy, specifically your right to restrict who may have access to your health care information.  This document names persons who can obtain health information about you from your doctors, hospitals, and insurance companies.
This statement not only describes the approximate amount and title in which you own your assets, but also the exact manner in which each asset is titled (i.e. your sole name, spouse’s name, joint, pay-on-death) as well as beneficiary designations.  An effective plan cannot be created if we are not absolutely clear about the titles.  Often we recommend changes to titles so they will coordinate with the plan we create together.


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