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Doesn't your will handle everything after death? Not necessarily

Perhaps you heard that a will is your final chance to provide instructions to those you leave behind. In this document, you distribute your property and may even express other wishes as well.

The problem is that your will may not be the appropriate way to distribute a particular piece of property or the right place to leave certain instructions.

What property wouldn't pass through a will?

Not all of your property needs to go through probate. In fact, if you put the following property into your will, you could end up with confused heirs and beneficiaries:

  • Life insurance policies require a beneficiary designation. The beneficiary or beneficiaries receive the proceeds from the policy directly and it does not go through probate.
  • Property titled with another person as "joint tenants with rights of survivorship" receive full ownership of it upon the death of the other party. Spouses ordinarily title the homes they buy in the manner to make sure that the surviving spouse quickly receives ownership without the need for probate.
  • If you have a trust, the property transferred into that trust does not go through probate, so you should not include it in your will.
  • Retirement accounts also require a beneficiary designation, so whomever you name receives the proceeds directly.
  • If you file "payable-on-death" forms for your deposit accounts, they also go directly to the person or people you name.
  • If you designate a beneficiary for your stocks and bonds, they go directly to those you name.

As you can see, you do not need to put these assets in your will. In fact, you shouldn't put them in your will in order to avoid confusion and complications for your surviving loved ones. The other advantage to these types of assets is that they become nearly immediately available for your loved ones to use.

When will your loved ones read your will?

In the days and, perhaps, weeks following your death, those who survive you will probably not be thinking about reading your will. Instead, they are busy grieving and arranging for your burial and funeral. If you want specific things done during this time, don't put those instructions in your will. Leave a separate sheet with instructions that someone can easily find. Better yet, tell someone what you want and where you put the written instructions.

If you want someone to do something specific prior to receiving an inheritance, consult with an attorney first. What you want to do may not be enforceable or even legal.

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