A. There are a number of different kinds of properties that may pass outside the provisions of your Will. But a Last Will and Testament alone WILL NOT avoid probate.
The list includes life insurance, retirement plans, individual retirement accounts, and annuities. When you purchased or set up these types of assets and accounts, you were probably asked to fill out a form listing the beneficiaries who will receive payments upon your death. These investments will pass to the named beneficiaries regardless of whether you have a Will. However, if you don't have a beneficiary named, if the beneficiary named is your "estate," or if all the beneficiaries are dead, then those investments will be paid to your estate and pass under your Will.
Certain bank and brokerage accounts will also pass outside your Will. For instance, payable-on-death accounts (sometimes called "POD" accounts) will be distributed to the named beneficiary. Additionally, accounts set up by one or more persons as joint tenants with rights of survivorship will pass to the surviving account holder or holders.
Some banks allow you to set up what they call trust accounts even though there is no written trust agreement. These types of accounts will pass to a named beneficiary without going through probate as well.
Not all joint accounts pass to the survivor. When joint accounts are set up as tenants in common, the portion of the account that was owned by the decedent passes under his or her Will.
Many people have decided to create revocable or irrevocable trusts as part of their estate plan. Virtually all such trusts are designed to pass directly to persons or other trusts named in the document rather than under a Will.
You may find that most of your estate consists of non-probate property. Therefore, it is extremely important to coordinate the beneficiaries of all these properties to make certain your assets will be distributed as you want when you pass away.
A. Living trusts are useful estate planning tools, and they have an important place in many people's estate plans. If you find any one of the following benefits appealing, then a living trust may be appropriate for you.
Benefit #1: No Probate. When a person dies, most properties pass either under a person's Will or under a living trust. Some properties--such as life insurance, IRAs, and certain types of bank and brokerage accounts--pass directly to named beneficiaries. If property passes under a Will, then the Will must be probated at the courthouse. Probate entails hiring a lawyer, filing a number of papers with the court, attending one or more hearings, and providing a written inventory to the court valuing the properties which passed under the Will.
Some people don't want this type of involvement with the court, so they opt for a living trust. By transferring all properties which would otherwise pass under your Will to a living trust, you can avoid the probate proceeding.
Court involvement is not eliminated entirely however. Florida now requires the trustee of a living trust to file a notice of the trust with the appropriate court containing information about the person who created the trust and the trustee. Also, in certain circumstances, the trustee may be required to pay expenses of administering the decedent's estate as well as the claims of creditors against the decedent's estate.
Benefit #2: More Privacy. As mentioned above, when a person dies with a Will, an inventory must be filed with the court. You may not want your friends, neighbors, or the media to be able to read a listing of what you own and what it is worth. After all, an inventory is a public record. With a living trust, your properties and their values remain private.
Benefit #3: Plan For Future Incapacity. You may be worried that one day you won't be able to manage your own finances, and you may want to name someone to handle these types of matters for you. You can address this potential problem with a power of attorney or with a living trust. A power of attorney will usually be accepted by banks, title companies and the like, but there is always the risk that an institution's legal department will reject it. The same person who may be denied the ability to use a power of attorney will likely be allowed to do anything he or she wants when acting as trustee of a living trust.
Benefit #4: Avoid Out-of-state Probate. If you own property in another state, you can avoid a costly probate proceeding in that state by transferring the property to a living trust.
Before you establish a living trust you need to understand the downsides, which include the following:
Disadvantage #1: Time-consuming to Set Up. Depending on how many different types of properties and accounts you own, it can take quite some time to switch everything over to the name of your living trust. In simple estates, it is possible to avoid probate without a trust, through beneficiary designations or joint ownership. Wills are usually shorter and simpler to understand than living trusts. Also, with a Will, you can sign it and forget about it. But with a living trust, you need to put your property into the trust and run your life out of it for as long as you live. For many people, this downside outweighs all the potential benefits.
Disadvantage #2: May Still Need to Probate Will. If you leave just one bank account or one piece of real estate out of the trust, probate will still be necessary. And probate takes about as long when there is one asset as when there are twenty. It is therefore critical to fund your Trust. Otherwise, those assets that are not held by the trust at the time of your death will need to be transferred to the trust through a probate court administration.