You’ve worked hard over your life to build a career, earn income and accumulate assets. As you approach retirement, you may be thinking about how best to pass that legacy on to your loved ones.
Everyone’s estate planning goals are different and unique to their own needs and circumstances. Perhaps you want to help your kids or grandchildren fund their own goals, such as retirement or college. Maybe you want to leave assets to a favorite charity or cause. Or maybe you simply want to provide a safety net and financial security for those who are most important to you.
A will is a good starting point for achieving your estate planning goals. Your will can provide instructions to your executor and the local court about who should receive your assets after you pass away.
However, a will doesn’t do everything. Even with a will in place, your estate will still go through a process called probate. That’s the legal process for settling one’s estate. During probate, your executor and the local probate court pay all outstanding debts, file a final tax return on your behalf, liquidate assets, notify heirs and much more.
As you might expect, probate can be time-consuming and costly. It can drain your estate of funds to pay for legal and administrative expenses. And it can greatly reduce the amount of assets that actually flow to your heirs.
Fortunately, there are steps you can take to reduce probate’s impact on your estate. Below are a few strategies to consider:
Maximize assets with beneficiary designations.
Not all of your assets pass through probate. Those that have beneficiary designations aren’t governed by your will, so they’re exempt from the probate process. Instead of looking to your will for guidance, those account administrators will simply distribute the assets to the individuals you have named as your beneficiaries.
Life insurance, annuities, IRAs, 401(k) plans and trusts are all examples of beneficiary-driven vehicles. You can minimize the amount of assets that pass through probate by increasing the amount of assets you hold in these types of accounts. For example, you might consider setting up a trust and then retitling assets to the trust so those assets can bypass probate.
Use joint ownership titling.
Some assets, like a bank account or real estate, may allow for joint ownership with another person. You simply retitle the asset to add the other individual as a joint owner. After you pass away, the asset passes directly to the joint owner.
Think carefully before you add a joint owner to an asset, though. In some cases, the joint owner may immediately gain full ownership rights, such as making withdrawals or investment changes. Be sure that you trust the individual with those responsibilities.
Gift assets to your heirs.
Another way to minimize the impact of probate is simply to distribute assets before you pass away. If they’re not in your estate when you die, they’re unlikely to go through probate. However, it is possible for the probate court to look back and include some assets given away shortly before your death.
You could give your grandchildren money for college while you’re still alive rather than as part of your will. Or you could give your children money to help fund their retirement. The other benefit of this strategy is that you get to see your legacy put to use while you’re still alive.
Ready to develop your probate strategy? Let’s talk about it. Contact us today at Spicer Wealth. We can help you analyze your needs and develop a strategy. Let’s connect soon and start the conversation.
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