As an Elder Law attorney, I am continuously asked, “What happens if I die without a Will?” The most accurate answer is, “I don’t have a clue.” And sadly, you probably don’t either.
When you pass away you want your estate to pass down to the beneficiaries you choose, but you must understand the rules or it can go terribly wrong. These rules are already being applied to you and your assets whether you realize it or not. Let’s apply these rules to a typical modern day family: The Brady Bunch. Mom and Dad both have three children from their prior marriages, no children together.
The first rule is that a Last Will and Testament only controls those assets that are in your name alone. If Dad signed a will leaving everything to his children from his first marriage, but he named his current wife as joint owner or beneficiary of the house and financial accounts, the Will has no bearing. This is because joint ownership and beneficiary designations supersede the Will.
Here is an example of it going horribly wrong: Mom and Dad are recently divorced and they have the cutest 2-year-old son. Dad signs a new Will leaving everything to his son but names his brother as beneficiary of his $500,000 life insurance policy so that his brother can watch over the money. Dad dies. His brother says “thank you very much” and keeps every dime of the money. [Read more…]