Many folks associate estate planning with having a will and a will is all they have. They are shocked to learn that a will is not all they need and that it usually doesn’t work. If you’re single, a will doesn’t control all of your property; and, if you’re married a will probably doesn’t control any of your property.
Joe and Claire were married (second marriage) and like most married couples, they own they’re assets jointly (joint tenants with right of survivorship.) When either Joe or Claire dies, the other will inherit all jointly owned assets, by operation of law.
They also each own life insurance and retirement accounts. They’ve named each other as the beneficiary of these assets.
They each have children from previous relationships that they named as the primary beneficiaries of their wills because they each have their own assets.
Joe died; and, Claire now owns the house, investments accounts, bank accounts, life insurance, and retirement accounts.
What does Joe’s will control?
A will only controls assets in one’s individual name, that don’t have a beneficiary designation.
Any assets owned as joint tenants, with right of survivorship, are not controlled by a will; this means the house, investment accounts, and bank accounts are not controlled by the will. Instead, they pass, by operation of law, to the surviving joint owner (in our example, Claire.)
In addition, any assets that have a beneficiary designation, pass by contract to the designated beneficiary (in our example, Claire.)
Joe’s will controls nothing, unless he owned a random asset in his individual name (that did not have a beneficiary designation.)
Although, Joe tried to pass assets to his children by way of his will, Joe’s will doesn’t control his assets. His estate plan failed.