You have a multitude of decisions to make when you create an estate plan, and it's important to have as much relevant information as possible. Without the right guidance, you may not end up with the plan you intended.
For example, it's important understand that if your estate needs to go through probate, it could take months for your loved ones to get access to the assets you want them to have. If one of your goals is to provide your surviving family members with the means to support themselves, you may need to structure your plan in a way that keeps your estate assets out of probate.
The utility of a revocable living trust
Trusts aren't only for celebrities and billionaires. People with various incomes throughout Oklahoma could benefit from a revocable living trust, which is characterized by the following three things:
- You create and benefit from the trust during your life.
- It continues to benefit you if you become incapacitated.
- It benefits your loved ones after your death.
Creating and signing the document is only the first step, however. Thereafter, you will need to transfer your assets into it (referred to as "funding" the trust). If you fail to take this crucial step, your assets may still go through probate.
The utility of beneficiary designations
When you purchased a life insurance policy, began participating in your employer's 401(k), opened an IRA or obtained an annuity, you filled out a beneficiary designation form. This form identified one or more individuals (or a trust) who would receive the funds in those accounts after your death without the asset going through probate.
You may also be able to fill out "payment on death" forms for your bank accounts and "transfer on death" forms for your investment accounts. The funds left in those accounts upon your death would go to the individual or individuals you designate.
The utility of property titles
Many married couples own their homes as "joint tenants with rights of survivorship." This means that when one spouse dies, the surviving spouse becomes the 100 percent owner of the property without the need for probate. You do not have to be married in order to own property this way. There are drawbacks to this form of ownership, however, so it would be a good idea to understand them as well before taking this step.
You may also execute a deed giving you a life estate in your property. This deed allows you to remain in the property until your death, at which point it passes to the beneficiary or beneficiaries of your choice outside of the probate process.
The utility of legal help
The primary benefit of using the above methods is that your surviving family members will have near immediate access to the property. They will not have to wait for months before receiving a distribution from your estate through probate.
With all of the different choices and legal mechanisms through which you can pass on your property to your loved ones without waiting for probate, it might help to have a deeper understanding of all of your options and to know how each choice will affect you during your life and your loved ones after your death. An Oklahoma estate planning attorney can provide you with the answers you need and help you create an estate plan with which you are satisfied.