When most people think of estate planning, one word comes to mind … Will. Historically, Wills were the primary instrument for a person to pass their belongings to their spouse, family and friends. However, through the decades the law has provided for alternate means of conveying property upon death. These include designating life insurance beneficiaries, payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) accounts or joint tenancy with rights of survivorship holdings on real estate. All of these instruments convey property after one’s death without a Will. However, each of the instruments just listed are limited on what can be transferred. As the law became more sophisticated, trusts have become the primary vehicle for transferring property. Trusts can be tailored to the individual, hold virtually all types of property (both real and personal) and allow for the transfer of property to occur without going through probate court.
An often circulated myth about Wills is that a person can avoid probate court and administration of an estate by having a Will. Irrespective of whether a person dies with or without a Will, his or her estate will go through probate court proceedings. A person only avoids probate court proceedings through the use of Will substitutes, like trusts. Wills have their place in estate planning and for some individuals a Will may be the right instrument. So, do you need a Will? The answer is more than likely yes, but the Will would work in tandem with a trust or other Will substitutes. For this reason, we in the legal field call it “Estate Planning”. Using all the available instruments, we guide you through the planning for your estate.