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Legal Documents Review

We help make certain that our client’s legal documents are current. Some of the experiences a client will face that necessitate a change in legal planning may include new marriages, re-marriages, death of a child, birth of their first grandchild, and the births of subsequent grandchildren.


A client’s existing wills generally do not address these issues. Even if a client has diligently made changes to their wills and trusts to reflect new circumstances along the way, we have found that many clients did not think about changing their beneficiary designations.


Transference of property at time of death can happen several ways, and we always try to educate our client as to what these were:


1. By title: A jointly owned home under Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship (JTWROS) will pass to the joint owner regardless of what the will states.

2. By contract: A beneficiary designation will take priority to a will. A trust will also take priority. 3. By probate: If a client dies owning any properties that they did not have in joint ownership or did not name a beneficiary for, these properties make up what is called a “probate estate”.


The estate must transfer ownership via the probate courts who use the will to determine who the rightful owner is. If a will is present, the probate court will use it as part of the process.


Depending on the state a client lives in, probate can be an expensive drawn-out process. And worse yet, if a clients own real estate in multiple states (which many do with vacation homes) those could be subject to multiple probates.


Keep in mind that the will is the last source of direction while passing property and the first two listed arrangements (title and contract) will take precedent to it.


As an example, a case of ours with two clients had a will that stated that when they died, their estate was to go to their two sons, and if either of their sons pre-deceased them his share would go to his spouse. However, their life insurance beneficiary designation said that the contingent beneficiaries of their policy were their two sons, equally. This meant that if one of the sons was not alive, his share would go to the surviving son, regardless of what the will said.


Once again, we are not attorneys, but we try to make sure that all legal documents are up to date and coordinated across all assets.


Most wills and beneficiary designations will have the surviving spouse as the primary beneficiary, but we’ve found many accounts and insurance policies that have no contingent beneficiaries listed. Remember, if the will is the only document mentioning that contingent arrangement, then probate will be the only way to get the assets distributed.


Additionally, surviving spouses typically need considerable help getting through the maze of filing for survivor benefits on social security and pensions. Most funeral homes tell the family that they will take care of social security. All they do is notify social security that the death took place, but do not help the surviving spouse file for their benefit.


Social security is surprisingly efficient at stopping a benefit due to someone’s death but getting the survivor’s benefit set up can be a very frustrating experience for the family. The same is true with pension plans. No matter how well prepared and organized a family may feel, the paperwork following a death is agonizing and particularly stressful for the survivors.


Once again, we are not attorneys, but we try to make sure that all legal documents are up to date and coordinated across all assets.

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