Good estate planning involves more than drafting a will, trust and other legal documents. People can also take steps with their various accounts to ensure that they’re easily transferred to their designated beneficiaries upon their death (once the financial institution receives the death certificate). The beneficiary then becomes the owner of the account.
This can help give family members immediate access to funds that they might need for funeral expenses and to pay bills for the deceased person in the immediate aftermath of their passing and well before the estate is settled. It can also help keep at least some of your assets — and your loved ones — out of probate court.
Transfer on death (TOD) accounts can be a good way to do this. With a TOD account, you name a beneficiary to whom the assets in the account will transfer when you die. You can name multiple beneficiaries if you choose, and designate what percentage of the funds each is entitled to receive.
A beneficiary has no access to the funds in the account while the account holder is alive. You also have the right to change your TOD beneficiaries at any time while you’re alive as long as you’re competent to do so.
Note that if you have one or more TOD accounts and also have a will, the accounts take precedence. It’s best to make sure that there’s no conflict between the two. However, if your will says that your children will inherit all of your assets, for example, but you’ve named a sibling as the TOD beneficiary, they’ll get that account regardless of what your will says.
Laws regarding what kind of assets (such as stocks, investments and real estate) can have TOD beneficiaries vary by state. So do laws regarding whether a TOD account must go to a surviving spouse rather than a TOD beneficiary. Whether you’re dealing with an account in another state or here in Texas, it’s essential to know what the law says. An experienced estate planning attorney can answer your questions.