Estate Planning Frequently Asked Questions
What is included in my estate?
Your estate will typically include all of your assets, such as your home, bank accounts, investments, automobiles, and your personal property.
Do I need a lawyer to make a will?
Not necessarily, although it is advisable to consult with an attorney so your beneficiaries do not encounter any issues after you have passed.
What happens if I die without a will?
The short answer is… it depends. If you hold assets jointly, such as bank accounts and your home, the person you hold the assets with will typically solely own them. If you die without a Will, state law will determine who will receive your estate as opposed to you making that decision.
What is probate?
Generally speaking, probate is the court process by which a judge oversees the accounting and distribution of a decedent’s estate. There is formal and informal probate, and depending on what issues arise during the process will dictate what course your loved ones will have to take.
How do I avoid probate?
There are a variety of tools that may be put into place to effectively transfer your estate to your beneficiaries in order to avoid probate. For example, naming your beneficiaries as payees of your bank accounts, commonly referred to as Payment on Death, is an effective way to transfer bank funds. In addition, making sure that your beneficiary forms for life insurance, investment accounts (401(k), IRA, Annuities, etc.) are completed and up-to-date are also ways to transfer your estate to avoid probate.
Do I need a Will if I have no assets?
Yes, everyone needs a Will. You can never predict what may occur when you pass, even when you do not have assets. There are a variety of situations that may arise that require someone to act on behalf of your estate, and it is important that you have a say in what occurs with those assets you do have.
Do I need a Will if I’m married?
Yes, again everyone needs a Will. Although if you are married and your assets are all community property, it is likely ownership of those assets will simply transfer completely to your spouse, assuming your spouse has not predeceased you. There are a number of issues that can arise even in cases where a decedent was married and is survived by his or her spouse. Having an attorney look over your estate is a good way to make sure everything is put into place to avoid problems that may occur after someone has passed.
Do I need a Will if I only have one child?
Yes, it is especially important to have a Will if you have a minor child or children. In your Will you may nominate someone to serve as guardian of your minor children. Even if you only have one child and you expect your assets to transfer to him or her when you pass, clearly stating your wishes in a Will is critical to ensuring a smooth transfer of your assets.
If I have a trust, do I need a Will?
If you have a trust, you will also have a Will, which is called a Pour-Over Will. A Pour-Over Will essentially “pours” your assets into the trust when you pass, however, there are certain assets such as your home, bank accounts and other assets that do not simply pour over into the trust when you pass, and you will need to take steps in advance to transfer those assets into your trust, commonly referred to as “funding the trust.”
How often should I review my estate plan?
It is recommended that you review it annually, and make a habit of doing so around tax time. A lot can happen in a year and it is important to know that your estate plan is up-to-date and accurately reflects your wishes.
Please note that the information contained here is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice. For more information, see our Disclaimer.
Estate Planning Services
Estate Planning FAQs
- What is included in my estate?
- Do I need a lawyer to make a Will?
- What happens if I die without a Will?
- What is probate?
- How do I avoid probate?
- Do I need a Will if I have no assets?
- Do I need a Will if I'm married?
- Do I need a Will if I only have one child?
- If I have a trust, do I need a Will?
- How often should I review my estate plan?