A number of different kinds of properties may pass outside the provisions of your will. The list includes life insurance, retirement plans, individual retirement accounts and annuities. When you purchased these types of assets and accounts, you would have been asked to fill out a form listing the beneficiaries in case of 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 named beneficiaries are deceased, 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 directly to the surviving account holder or holders.
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. Remember, however, that for assets to pass according to the terms of your trust, you must transfer the assets into the trust.
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.
Jeffery J. McKenna is a local attorney licensed in three states and serving clients in Utah, Nevada, and Arizona. He is a partner at the law firm of Barney, McKenna and Olmstead, with offices in St. George and Mesquite. He is a founding member of the Southern Utah Estate Planning Council. If you have questions or topics that you would like addressed in these Wednesday articles please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 628-1711.