Wills – The Basics
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Will Substitutes – Often Better than a Will
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This whole article talks about wills. However, there are many other ways to devise property other than by using a will. In fact, even with people who die intestate (i.e. without a will), much of their property will likely not go to probate. Many people already have will substitutes, and don’t even know it. Here are some examples of will substitutes:
  • Trusts
  • Life insurance policies
  • Pension plans / IRAs
  • Joint Bank Accounts
  • Joint Tenancy with Rights of Survivorship
  • Transfer on Death Deeds
Will substitutes take the place of a will, because they do the same thing that a will does – they devise property. Many will substitutes can also be created by a minor.

Wills and will substitutes are also completely independent of each other. For example, assume you set up a joint bank account with your spouse. You then decide to create a will. At this point, you would not be able to create a will that attempts to devise your interest in the joint bank account to someone other than your spouse. In other words, the joint bank account is independent of your will.

The most influential will substitute is often a trust. A trust can basically do everything a will can do, but without the hassle of going to probate court. Therefore, it is often much better to set up a trust than a will because trusts are not subject to probate. In fact, for many people it is most advisable to set up a revocable living trust instead of a will. Because there are so many options in how to legally devise your property, it is generally best to consult with a lawyer about your options.

Finally, let’s wrap up what we’ve talked about with wills on the next page.

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