A legal will cannot—and thus does not—control everything. When it comes to estate planning, there are several types of documents that already name your designated beneficiaries. Thus, your will does not control:
1) Who receives your life insurance proceeds. If you’ve designated a beneficiary, the beneficiary gets the life insurance no matter what you may state in your will. If you have a change of heart, you should change the beneficiary with your life insurer.
2) Who receives money from your retirement accounts. These act like life insurance proceeds. Whoever you’ve designated as your beneficiaries will get the money from the retirement accounts despite what your will may say.
3) Joint checking and bank accounts. These go to the survivor, even if the will says something else.
4) Joint real property. If you have real estate held jointly as tenants in common with the right of survivorship, the surviving party receives the property despite what the will says.
5) Joint property, such as cars. If there are two names on the vehicle title, the survivor gets the car.
6) Assets you’ve put into a living trust. You may want to consider having a living trust in addition to a will. A living trust avoids the probate process and allows beneficiaries to receive your property faster. Discuss your options with an estate planning attorney.
7) If your will is going to be contested. People who expected to inherit from you and did not, or who are not satisfied with their share, may contest your will. As long as you made a valid will and it was reviewed by an attorney, in most cases your will should withstand the challenge. In some cases, however, it will not, and then it’s up to the probate court to decide.
A will is an important instrument, but it must be valid or your property will be divided as if you had died without having a will in place.
As noted above, the formalities required for a valid will vary in each state. Check with an estate planning attorney to make sure your will has been properly prepared.
If you don’t want joint property or life insurance to go to certain beneficiaries, discuss this with an estate planning attorney so you can change your beneficiaries and joint property now before it’s too late to do anything about it.
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