What Assets Are Controlled by My Will?

A Last Will and Testament is a key estate planning document to have in place. Two basic important provisions of a Will name the beneficiaries (who you want to receive your assets when you pass away) and your Executor (who you want to administer your estate when you die). However, a common misconception is that all of your assets are governed by your Will when you pass away. This is not true for most people.

There are various assets that do not pass through a person’s Will. Common examples of assets that generally are not administered through a Will include:

Beneficiary Designated Assets. Assets that have a named surviving beneficiary, such as a life insurance policy, annuity, or retirement account, pass according to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries.

Certain Jointly Held Assets. Bank accounts that are jointly held pass to the surviving party or parties on the account. Real estate held as joint tenants with right of survivorship vests in the surviving joint owner or owners at death.

Assets with a Transfer on Death (TOD) or Pay on Death (POD) Designation. At death these accounts pay to the person or persons designated as the TOD or POD beneficiary.

Real Estate with a Retained Life Estate. When the life estate owner dies, real estate with a retained life estate passes to the remainder person or persons named as remainder grantees in the deed.

Trust Assets. Assets owned by a revocable or irrevocable trust will pass to the beneficiaries of the trust.

An estate plan is more than simply your Will. There are advantages and disadvantages to assets passing through your Will or outside of your Will. Probate is one consideration for clients, but there are also other considerations such as income taxes, inheritance taxes, and long-term care implications that should be discussed as appropriate when developing an estate plan. A certified elder law attorney can advise you as to the best way to structure your estate plan through your Will and outside of your Will.