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Estate administration & probate can be avoided through planning

Although a will is thought of as the basic anchor of an estate plan, there are alternative methods of disposing of one's assets that may, in some instances, dispense of the need for a will. In Georgia and all other jurisdictions, if all of a person's assets have already been designated for automatic distribution at death, then there may be no need for estate administration & probate of a will at death. It is, nonetheless, still preferable for a person to include a will in an estate plan, just in case assets with no pre-designations are in the testator's name at the time of his or her death.

Some types of accounts owned in life have beneficiary designations written into the instruments that take precedence over the terms of a will. For example, if real estate is owned and titled as "joint tenants with the right of survivorship" and one of the owners dies, the surviving joint tenant automatically becomes the owner at the time of the other's death. Title is said to pass by operation of law in that instance.

The same joint tenancy wording, if put on a savings account passbook, will make the funds go automatically to the survivor upon the other's death. Life insurance policies work under the same principle, and the proceeds will go to the beneficiary listed on the policy. Perhaps surprisingly, the same applies to investment accounts and retirement accounts, which have a specified beneficiary designated right on the ownership provisions of the account.

Another method to avoid funds going through estate administration & probate of the will is called a transfer on death account. It may most commonly be in the form of a trust instrument that pays the trust funds to the beneficiary automatically at death. These testamentary substitutes are an effective way of avoiding probate in Georgia and all other jurisdictions. They may not be available in all situations, however, and the will should, in any event, be included in the estate plan as a safeguard.

Source: NASDAQ, "Maybe You Don't Need a Will", Daniel A.Timins, June 6, 2016

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