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These things don't belong in your last will and testament

You create your last will and testament to pass on your property to your heirs after your death. You leave certain property to the people that you love. The property can include anything from your house to your grandmother's china.

However, it may surprise you that some of your most highly valued assets probably shouldn't even end up in your will. If you inadvertently include these properties in your will, it could wreak havoc on the administration of your estate.

Some property passes by operation of law

The following properties may go to your loved ones without the need to go through probate:

  • Real estate: Unless you own real estate in your name alone, you may have titled it as "joint tenancy." This means that you and the other owner, most often your spouse, own the property equally. Upon your death, your share of the home automatically passes to the joint tenant. This means that the property does not have to go through probate and, therefore, doesn't need to be in your will. 
  • Assets held in a living trust: By placing property in a living trust, it doesn't need to go through probate. It passes to the beneficiaries of the trust in accordance with its terms.
  • Life insurance: When you purchase a life insurance policy, you probably filled out a beneficiary designation indicating who receives the proceeds after your death. In most instances, that person receives the funds directly from the life insurance company without having to pass through probate. 
  • Retirement accounts: If you have a 401K, pension plan or IRA, you probably filled out the same type of beneficiary designation as for life insurance. Again, the proceeds go directly to the beneficiary without probate. 
  • Bonds and stocks: These assets ordinarily pass in the same manner as life insurance and retirement accounts.
  • Bank accounts: You may be able to choose a beneficiary for your bank accounts through a "payable-on-death" form. 

Because these types of assets don't need to go through probate, there is no need to put them in your will.

You may need help

In order to make sure that you don't list property in your will that does not need to be there, it may be a good idea to get some help in determining whether a certain asset will go to an heir or beneficiary automatically upon your death. After spending your life accumulating your property and wealth, you should be able to leave it to whomever you choose, but your will may not be the way to do it.

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