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Investing 101

Dealing with Property in Your Will

By Sequoia on 06/24/2010 – 4:24 am PDTLeave a Comment

When you pass away, you can pass on the property you once owned through a will. It is impossible for you or your estate to continue to own the property; therefore, it is up to you to properly pass it on to beneficiaries. In the absence of legal arrangements made for your estate, you will not be able to control who ultimately retains possession of your assets. There are several ways to pass on those assets, and the best methods are those that both comply with the law and provide a strong and determined method for the dissemination of your assets.

Cover your Legal Bases

A piece of paper, even if it is intended to be a will, does not become an enforceable document unless it complies with the laws of your state. You have several options to ensure compliance. You may choose to work with a lawyer directly, or you can use a statutory will form. A statutory will allows you to simply “fill in the blank,” which may be a good option if your estate is not very complicated. In any case, it is best to have a witness to the signing of your will.

Consider a Trust

A trust is one method to pass on the ownership of your assets that may present benefits. With a trust, all or some of your assets are moved out of your ownership while you are still living. The trust becomes the legal owner of these assets. Since the trust does not die with you, it can continue to own them after your death. You can then appoint a trustee to execute your wishes for the eventual purposes of funds and assets within the trust. Even if you use a trust appropriately, however, you will still need to comply with certain legal grounds to choose beneficiaries, pay taxes and resolve debts.

Leave Assets to Appropriate Beneficiaries

You cannot simply choose who you would like to list as a beneficiary in some cases. Specifically, a spouse has rights to a portion of your estate equaling 30 to 50 percent, depending on your state of residence. Whether you use a will or a trust after your death, you will have to ensure the spouse gets a legal portion of your estate. Your children under the age of 18 will also have rights in your state of residence. Make sure your will lists these individuals appropriately so your will stands up if contested in court.

Provide Instructions for Debts

Your debts must be resolved before your assets are passed on. With a will, you will list these liabilities in addition to your assets. You may provide instructions to resolve the debts, such as the selling of real estate to cover mortgage debt. Even if your assets are in trust, the trust will still be required to pay off debts in its name. Your will and instructions for the will’s executor or your trust and instructions for its trustee must provide for the paying off of all debts upon your death. Otherwise, your beneficiaries may be responsible for any legal judgments against your estate by lenders.

Related Articles:

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  2. What is an A/B Trust?
  3. How to Avoid Probate Administration
  4. Probate: How to "Prove" a Will
  5. The Credit Shelter Trust in Action

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