The estate planning process is individual and unique to each person that goes through it. There is no one-size-fits-all template that will work for everyone. There are various tax concerns to think about, familial relationships, and many other factors that influence how we decide to distribute our assets after we die. The process can be confusing, but an experienced New York estate planning attorney can help simplify it for you. However, assets transfer in four ways common for almost everyone.
Transfer Via Last Will and Testament
Most people are familiar with the concept of a Will. A Last Will and Testament is a written document that expresses your wishes as to how your assets should be distributed upon your death. While many assets simply require nominating a beneficiary, which is discussed below, other assets require you to specify how you wish your assets to be distributed upon your death. A Last Will and Testament generally only includes property that is individually owned and is subject to validation by New York’s Surrogate Court.
Transfer Via Joint Ownership
Many assets, including real property and other large assets, are jointly owned by both spouses in a marriage. This is called joint ownership, sometimes referred to as joint tenancy. When one spouse dies, the other spouse automatically takes ownership of the jointly held asset. Let’s use a house as an example. If both spouses’ names are on the title to the house and one spouse passes away, New York law transfers ownership of the house to the surviving spouse. The surviving spouse becomes the sole owner of the property. This process takes place automatically without the need for court approval.
Transfer Via Trust
There are many different types of trusts, but one of the most popular is a revocable living trust which we will use as our example here. With a revocable living trust, you can create a trust that is funded by property you wish to transfer to the trust which will pass to owners of your choosing after death. A revocable living trust can be an easy vehicle for property and asset transfer that can help you keep many of your assets that might otherwise be subject to probate out of the court process. To find out more about other types of trust and what type of trust is the best fit for you, talk with an experienced New York estate planning lawyer.
Transfer Via Beneficiary Nomination
Life insurance policies and other accounts that require nomination of a beneficiary are not subject to the probate process and are transferred upon your death via the process attached to the asset. As long as you have nominated a valid beneficiary and there are no surrounding legal concerns, assets that require you to nominate a beneficiary transfer automatically in this way once you have fulfilled any administrative requirements without the need for court involvement.