Most people understand that a Will, sometimes referred to as a Last Will and Testament, is a document that describes who you want to have your property when you die. Property that passes to another person in a will is commonly referred to as "probate assets." So for example, you might want your grandson to have your father's pocket watch, or your daughter to have your engagement ring. For many people who think about what they have to leave loved ones after they die, it is often the personal property that has the most meaning for those left in the physical world.
Understanding what property passes to your loved ones through your will and what property doesn't is the first step in deciding what you want your will to say.
I cherish owning and wearing my Aunt Scottie's ring that I saw on her finger until she died at age 96. I wear her ring on days when I want to be reminded to live as she did--full of optimism and satisfaction that she had everything of value that there was to have in this world.
There are other assets that people own at their death that do not pass at their death by a will. These are commonly referred to as "non-probate assets." Below is a list of the most common examples:
- Property that you have named someone as a beneficiary on so that they receive the property at your death. For example, individual retirement accounts (IRA's) and life insurance policies.
- Property that you own jointly with someone that has a "right of survivorship." This means that at a joint owner's death, the property automatically goes to the "survivor." A right of survivorship can also apply to the ownership of several types of property/accounts, for example, bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks, bonds, and real property (real estate).
- Bank accounts that you have told the bank in writing that you want the funds to be paid to (name) at your death. This is often called a "pay on death" (POD) account.
- Property that is owned in a trust that you create, passes to another person according to the terms you write in the trust.
If you are thinking about creating a will or revising your will with an attorney, it is important that you discuss all of your property so that you understand HOW you want your property to be distributed to your loved ones and any charities at your death.