The Three Estate Planning Tools Everyone Needs to Know
Jonathan: Hello. My name is Jonathan Barlow. I’m a estate planning attorney at Clear Counsel Law Group. Today, we are talking about people who have relatively few assets and what estate planning tools they might use in order to transfer those assets after they pass away. I want to talk about three tools that they might use today. The first is a will. The second is joint ownership. The third is beneficiary designations.
In order to illustrate how these three tools might work, let me introduce you to one of my hypothetical clients. Her name is Helen. Helen lives here in the Las Vegas area. She has two children, Bob and Suzy.
An Estate Planning Hypothetical
Helen’s estate basically has three assets. She has a condo, has about sixty thousand dollars in equity in the condo. She has her bank account and the bank account has three, or four, five thousand dollars in it. She has a car that she’s paid of. The car is worth five or six thousand dollars. Now, Helen, can use all three of these tools to help transfer her assets after her death.
The first thing that she really should do is to prepare a will. A will is a document where Helen can say who she wants to receive her assets after she passes away, in what percentages, in what amounts, under what conditions. Helen can also say in her will who she wants to be in-charge of that process. Who is going to be the executor, the person responsible to make that happen.
Helen can use the will to say, “I want to split my assets equally between my two children.” She could also say, “I want to give Bob seventy percent and Suzy thirty percent.” Whatever the case maybe, she can say that in her will.
The second thing that Helen can also do is to use joint ownership as a way to transfer her assets after she passes away. What joint ownership means is that say she goes into her bank and explains to them, “Hey. I want to add Suzy on to my bank account.” The bank make designations and changes on bank account to add Suzy as a joint owner and she owns it as the same time as Helen.
When Helen dies, the joint owner, in this situation, Suzy, becomes the one hundred percent owner of that bank account, simply by virtue of Helen passing away. Suzy would just have to take a death certificate into the bank, say, “Hey. Mom has passed away.” The bank would essentially just give that money in that account to her without any other work necessary.
The third tool that Helen might use to make it easier to transfer assets in a smaller size to say is beneficiary designations. The most common example of beneficiary designations that we think about would be a life insurance policy. Generally, if we have life insurance on our life, we name somebody as the beneficiary to receive that money after we pass away.
We can do the same thing with other assets. For example, in Nevada, there’s a special form of deed that somebody can sign to name beneficiaries on their house. Helen could sign this beneficiary deed and say, “Upon my death, the house shall be transferred to Bob and Suzy.”
After Helen passes away, Bob and Suzy prepare a document with her death certificate that notes that she’s passed away and the ownership of that house transfers automatically to them without any other work. No probate work or other work required. It becomes a very easy way to transfer that condo that only had sixty thousand dollars in equity in it to her children after she passes away.
Those are three simple tools that can be used to transfer that and there’s a frequent questions that Brian has right now that the people often ask me.
Brian: What if there’s a will that has two beneficiaries, but the asset is being held in joint tenancy?
Jonathan: That’s a great question. Again, same example. Helen has two kids, Bob and Suzy. Yet, she did just what I described earlier, she went in to the bank and she said, “I just want Suzy to get one…” She added Suzy as the joint owner of the bank account.
The effect of that is that even though she said in the will that she wanted Bob and Suzy to share whatever she had, the joint ownership designation, the joint account designation is going to trump the will. Meaning, Suzy is going to get that account one hundred percent with no legal obligation to share with her brother Bob. Even though the will says that were supposed to share it fifty-fifty.
Again, we want to be careful about how we use those joint designations to make sure that they do actually match up to what you want to do. You may say in the will, “I want to share it with him equally,” but if you make a joint beneficiary designation or a joint account ownership for a beneficiary designation, there’s contrary to that, those will apply and be enforced rather than what you say in the will.
With all three of these tools, the will, joint ownership, and beneficiary designations, there are pros and cons to how they’re used. You want to be careful that that matched up with what you want to accomplished and that they do what you’ve said they want to do.
If you have any questions about this and want help with discussing these three tools and how they work for people with smaller estates, it’s time to give us a call here at Clear Counsel Law Group.