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GOING TO COURT COSTS MONEY AND TAKES TIME: Pass Down Some or All of Your Property Without a Will

You’re smart and responsible: you worked your entire life and will have money and property to pass to your loved ones. You have made the right decision to plan for your passing and ensure your money is handled properly. The process of documenting who gets your money and your property is often done by creating a will or trust. But did you know that many types of property and money can be passed to your loved ones immediately upon your death? That means no waiting, no court, no stress, and no legal fees. 

In many of the old movies, after someone dies, a somber and serious lawyer reads the will to a room filled with hope and anticipation. If you watch old black and white reruns of the TV show called The Honeymooners, you’ll recall the scene where Ralph Kramden learns that the “fortune” he is supposed to inherit is a very rich woman’s bird named Fortune! He faints when he sees the birdcage. He received no money: just the bird. His dreams of early retirement were crushed!

What’s the Problem?

What many people don’t know is that reading the will is not enough: In New York, you have to go to court to process the will, known as “probating” the will. The person given the power in the will to distribute the money and property must be approved by the court to serve in that position. It can take months to get documents from the court so that the money and property can be distributed. 

What’s the solution?

Many types of property can be transferred simply upon your death so long as you have completed the documents needed during your lifetime. Here are some examples:

  • Life Insurance: The proceeds of your life insurance policy are paid directly to your gift recipient. No need to go to court to receive the money.
  • Transfer Your Assets to a Trust: Assets placed in the name of a trust pass under the terms of the trust upon death. Trusts tend to cost more money that a will to prepare, but they can save the cost and time required by probating a will.
  • Real Estate: If the deed to a house or real estate states that the property is owned by you and one or more persons, with a right of survivorship, ownership will pass to the other owners upon your death. Unfortunately, there can be some limitations that might require probate, but it may be worth consulting an attorney to see if this is the right solution for you. You should not transfer real estate during your lifetime without considering the tax consequences of such a transfer, either.
  • Name Your Gift Recipient on Your Bank Accounts: You can modify your bank accounts to provide what happens to the money in the account upon death. For example, New York residents can add a “payable-on-death” (POD) designation to their checking and savings accounts and certificates of deposit. Ownership of the money will transfer immediately upon your death. And you don’t have to worry about access to the money during your lifetime: your gift recipient has no rights to the money until you pass away.
  • Name Your Gift Recipient on Your Stocks and Bonds: You can place the same POD designation on stocks or bonds in New York. 

What’s the Conclusion?

You should consult with a lawyer and find out what is right for you. When you have prepared the documents that ensure your financial affairs are in order, you leave a great gift to your family and friends. You leave them clear direction on your wants and needs and a roadmap for handling your wishes. By planning for your passing, you permit them to focus on your legacy and your memory.