A primary reason for estate planning is to make life easier for your loved ones when you pass away. One of the ways to do this is to take a full inventory of your assets and keep it current. At Surprenant & Beneski, P.C., we have been successfully assisting clients from Southeastern Massachusetts in this and all other estate planning tasks for over 50 years.
This article is designed to explain the many benefits of inventorying your assets and to provide guidance about the steps involved in doing so. For more information, contact our skilled attorneys now to discuss your best options. Estate planning is an area in which being proactive is essential. And in many cases, making an inventory of your assets is an excellent place to start.
How to Create an Inventory of Your Assets
We all know how helpful lists are in organizing data. While there are all kinds of software programs to help create an inventory, a simple typed or written document will work as well.
The more detailed your document is, the more helpful it will be to your beneficiaries.
For example, telling where the items on your list are located is critical, but so is providing information about the combination to the lock on your safe, the whereabouts of your storage space, or the bank that holds your safety deposit box. Of course, storing this information securely is crucial.
Determining the Necessity for Probate
Because probate can be expensive and time-consuming, it is helpful to identify which of your assets will have to go through this legal process. It all depends on how each item is titled or whether a specific beneficiary is named. In general, accounts or property will have to go through the probate process if they are:
- Titled in your name alone, not owned jointly
- Not titled in the name of a business (e.g. LLC) or trust
- Not designated at payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (POD)
If you discover that you have property that must go through probate and are eager to avoid this legal process, our savvy attorneys may be able to restructure or retitle your assets to rectify the problem.
Benefits of Creating a Comprehensive Inventory
Preparing a complete inventory will help your representative determine, and your beneficiaries understand, how your assets will be distributed and their ownership transferred, depending on whether:
- Property is owned in joint tenancy with rights of survivorship (such as real estate or bank accounts) and will pass automatically to the surviving joint owner without probate
- Bank or investment accounts have POD or TOD designations that allow them to skip probate and pass directly to the named beneficiary
- Life insurance proceeds have a beneficiary designation, enabling them to avoid probate
- Accounts and property owned by a trust can be distributed outside of probate
- Retirement accounts can typically avoid probate, though the listed beneficiary usually must file a claim to have the money transferred
- Vehicles usually require an affidavit, a death certificate, and the car title to be transferred to the beneficiary through the local department of motor vehicles
On the other hand, items of personal property (e.g., furniture, jewelry, artwork, collections), if above the value determined by Massachusetts state law, may be subject to probate, unless they are transferred into a trust before death.
Note: It is important to include digital assets in your inventory. Our attorneys will be happy to assist you in figuring out how to evaluate, preserve, and protect these intangible, but significant assets for your heir and/or other beneficiaries.
Make Sure Your Inventory List Can Be Located When the Time Comes
No matter whether your inventory is on file with your estate planning attorney, on a labeled USB drive in your safety deposit box, or in a carefully hidden file folder, your beneficiaries must know where to look for it. It is also critical that your inventory be updated regularly so that at the time of your death confusion and frustration are not added to the emotional and logistical challenges facing those you love most.
Contact Surprenant & Beneski today to discuss your unique situation.