Without proper planning, your will determines who inherits your property, asset distribution—everything from your home, car, bank accounts and personal possessions. Your spouse may not necessarily be your heir—and that’s just one of many reasons to have an estate plan.
An estate plan avoids a “default” distribution of your possessions, says the recent article “Asset distribution when we die” from LimaOhio.com.
Let’s say someone names a nephew as the beneficiary of his life insurance policy. The life insurance company has a contractual legal responsibility to pay the nephew, when the policy owner dies. In turn, the nephew will be required to provide a death certificate and prove that he is indeed the nephew. This is an example of an asset governed by a contract, also described as a named beneficiary.
Assets that are not governed by a contract are distributed to whoever a person directs to get the asset in their will, aka their last will and testament. If there is no will, the state law will determine who should get the assets in a process known as “intestate” probate.
In this asset distribution process, when there is a last will, the executor (or personal representative depending on the state) is in charge of the assets. The executor or personal representative is overseen by the probate court judge, who reviews the will and must give approval before assets can be distributed. However, the probate court’s involvement comes with a price, and it is not always a fast process. Likewise, a probate attorney will also have fees. It is always faster and less costly to have an asset be distributed through a contract, like a trust or by having a beneficiary named to the asset.
If a will only provides limited instructions, the state’s law will fill in the gaps. Therefore, any assets that pass-through contracts will be distributed directly, assets noted in the will go through probate and anything else will go usually to the next of kin.
A better course of action is to have an experienced estate planning attorney review all of your assets, determine who you want to receive your property and make up a plan to make this happen in a smooth, tax-efficient manner.
Reference: LimaOhio.com (Aug. 22, 2020) “Asset distribution when we die”