• Brian Bass

Estate Planning: Streamlining the Transition

Planning the transition of your assets isn’t just about maximizing the amount passed on and simplifying the handoff. It’s really about ensuring that the help, love and wisdom you have provided for your people during your life can continue after you are gone. A thoughtful plan can look ahead and smooth obstacles in the same way you would if you were present.

Using the court system to settle your will, a process known as probate, creates a public record of all your financial information and the most private details of your family. Fortunately, there are several good options to avoid this lengthy, public, and expensive process.

A collaborative relationship between your family, an estate planning attorney and your financial planner can create a seamless transition between what you’re doing now and how you want to support your heirs. The estate attorney provides the legal framework for the plan. Whether that is a simple will or a complex trust setup, these documents are crucial to ensuring things go as planned. From there, the financial planner can structure your assets to minimize costs and effect seamless, efficient transfers of your estate when it becomes necessary.

A collaborative relationship between your family, an estate planning attorney and your financial planner can create a seamless transition between what you’re doing now and how you want to support your heirs.

Minimizing Probate

Probate is the legal process by which a will is reviewed and determined to be valid and authentic. The court appoints an executor named in the will to administer the process of collecting the assets, paying the liabilities, and finally distributing the remaining assets. Probate can be lengthy and expensive and it is not private.

Assets that allow you to name a beneficiary will not need to go through probate and will transfer ownership relatively easily and quickly. These include life insurance proceeds, IRAs, 401(k) plans, and annuities.

Co-ownership of an asset can also avoid probate. There are several conditions that must be met, and you may need to consult with an attorney. Some assets that can be held this way are cars, real estate, bank accounts, brokerage accounts, collections, etc. There can also be more than one co-owner. Following the death of one owner, depending on the type of property, the transfer is effected by either an affidavit, providing the death certificate of the decedent, or otherwise taking control of the property. This strategy works very well for the family home, for example, and when deployed with financial assets it can ensure that they remain accessible to the surviving spouse or are easily transferred to children.

Wills and Living Trusts

A will is the most common estate planning instrument. It can used to appoint a guardian for your minor children, direct the distribution of assets after death, control who inherits specific property and name the person responsible for executing the document. The two main drawbacks of the simplicity of a will are that it is subject to probate and it can be openly contested.

One option to take the protections of a will to the next level is to implement a trust arrangement. A living trust is a legal document that operates similarly to a will in that it allows the owner to direct what happens after death. The difference lies in the details of how it operates.

The living trust provides complete privacy avoids the probate process entirely. Any assets held inside the trust are passed to the listed beneficiaries according the language of the trust without intervention from any third party. Another benefit is flexibility. Unlike other types of trusts, a living trust allows the owner full access to the assets and the option to alter the terms of the trust.

Because a living trust is a more complex document than a will, the expense of creating it will be greater. Additionally, a trust must be funded. The assets named in the trust document must be transferred into the trust through separate processes. Depending on the size of your estate, the complexity of your bequests, and your own desire for speed and privacy, it may still be the right choice.

The Bottom Line

You’ve worked hard to build a life for yourself and the people you share it with. To make sure your wishes, both for yourself and everyone you care for, are carried out, it’s important to put some thought to your estate planning.

A collaborative relationship between an estate attorney and a financial planner can help you design an estate plan that ensures you assets are kept safe and your desires to take care of your loved ones after death are efficiently executed.

For a comprehensive review of your personal situation, always consult your legal advisor. Neither Cetera Advisor Networks LLC, nor any of its representatives may give legal advice.