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When Wills Don’t Work (And Sometimes Why)

Posted on: March 26th, 2014


By: Dahlia Robinson - Ocken, Esq.

Most people assume that their wills are the ultimate guide on who gets their bank or brokerage accounts after they die. But a person's last words may not, in fact, be the last word.
An estate plan can be undermined by the way an account owner names—or titles—beneficiaries to their accounts.

So your Will is just that, your Last Will and Testament. After all, this is the legal document to set it all down and get it all straight, right? Wrong.

The key to the disposition of your estate is how your assets are “titled” and how the beneficiaries are designated.

In fact, none other than the The Wall Street Journal considered this subject in a recent article titled “A Will Is Not Always the Last Word.

Essentially, your Will is a powerful piece of legal documentation. It is oftentimes the centerpiece of an estate plan and the north star of a probate proceeding. However, for many Americans, their estate planning is a hodge podge of formal legal planning (e.g., a Last Will and Testament) and more informal planning (e.g., beneficiary designations on retirement funds or other assets outside of a Last Will).

Assets that pass “outside” of the control of a Last Will are not subject to the controls you establish in your Last Will. For example, if one of your heirs is given to “substance abuse,” then the direct, outright distributions from your retirement funds or life insurance will pass directly into his or her hands, for better or for worse.

As the original article notes and common sense validates, the careful coordination of your estate planning legal documents (i.e., Last Will and Testament, Revocable Living Trust, etc.) and the titling/beneficiary designations of your assets is fundamental to the success of your estate distribution objectives.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal (November 10, 2013) “A Will Is Not Always the Last Word
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Philadelphia area Estate Planning and Elder Law attorneys Dahlia Robinson-Ocken offers creative planning in the areas of estate planning, elder law planning, wills, revocable living trusts, long-term care asset protection planning, powers of attorney, medical powers of attorney, guardianships, irrevocable trusts, living wills, estate, probate and trust administration, probate avoidance, asset protection and planning for physicians, tax planning, lawsuit protection planning (including professional malpractice lawsuit protection planning), planning for minor children, faith-based planning, Medicaid planning, Veterans benefits planning and resources, charitable planning and gifting, special needs and disability planning, estate tax planning, business law and succession planning, and Medicaid applications and long-term care crisis planning. Dahlia serves the entire southeastern Pennsylvania and southern and central New Jersey region, including Philadelphia, Montgomery County, Delaware County, Bucks County, Chester County, King of Prussia, Springfield, and Conshohocken in Pennsylvania, as well as Camden County, Gloucester County, Burlington County, and Mercer County in New Jersey.

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