A primary reason people want to keep their assets out of probate is because it’s a public process. It can also be time consuming and costly.

A living trust is a popular document in a comprehensive estate plan because assets transferred to it don’t have to pass through probate. But what about the assets that weren’t transferred to a living trust during your life? With a pour-over will, you can spell out how these assets will be transferred at your death.

Benefits of pour-over wills

As the name “pour-over will” implies, any property that isn’t specifically mentioned in your regular will is “poured over” into your living trust after your death. Your trustee then distributes the assets to the beneficiaries under the trust’s terms. This setup offers the following benefits:

Convenience. It’s easier to have one document controlling the assets than it is to “mix and match.” With a pour-over will, it’s clear that everything goes to the trust, and then it’s the trust document that’s used to determine who gets what. That, ideally, makes it easier for the executor and trustee charged with wrapping up the estate.

Completeness. Generally, everyone maintains some assets outside of a living trust. A pour-over will addresses any items that have fallen through the cracks or that have been purposely omitted. It closes the door on your estate.

Privacy. In addition to the convenience of avoiding probate for the assets that are titled in the name of the trust, this setup helps to keep a measure of privacy that isn’t available when assets are passed directly through a regular will.

Roles of executors and trustees

Your executor must handle specific bequests included in the will, as well as the assets being transferred to the trust through the pour-over provision before the trustee takes over. (Exceptions may apply in certain states for pour-over wills.) While this may take months to complete, property transferred directly to a living trust can be distributed within weeks of a person’s death.

Therefore, this technique doesn’t avoid probate completely, but it’s generally less costly and time consuming than usual. And, if you’re thorough with the transfer of assets made directly to the living trust, the residual should be relatively small, and perhaps there won’t be anything at all that will pass via the will.

Note that if you hold back only items of minor value for the pour-over part of the will, your family may benefit from an expedited process. In some states, your estate may qualify for “small estate” probate, often known as “summary probate.” These procedures are easier, faster and less expensive than regular probate.

After the executor transfers the assets to the trust, it’s up to the trustee to do the heavy lifting. (The executor and trustee may be the same person and, in fact, they often are.) The responsibilities of a trustee are similar to those of an executor with one critical difference: They extend only to the trust assets. The trustee then adheres to the terms of the trust.

Documents working in tandem

A living trust offers many benefits. However, for it to work as intended, assets must be properly transferred to it. As you acquire assets during your life, it’s common to overlook retitling them to your living trust. Pairing the trust with a pour-over will may be the answer to wrangling any loose assets into the trust. Contact your estate planning advisor to determine if this strategy is right for you.

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