Surprisingly, not all assets pass under your Will. Assets first pass by “forms of ownership.” A jointly held home, brokerage or bank account will pass to the other joint owner. Next, assets pass by beneficiary designation, like life insurance or an IRA account. Only when there is no other form of transferring title is the Will considered.
Yet, in many estate plans, a Will directs which assets are to pass, and where (such as to a trust). These plans require coordination among all of these methods of asset transfer: forms of ownership, beneficiary designation, and the Will. This is the essence of an integrated estate plan. Your attorney should coordinate this with you and your financial planner.
For example, a plan may want a spouse as the primary beneficiary and a testamentary trust (a trust contained in your Will) as contingent beneficiary. To achieve this result, the beneficiary forms controlling certain assets must be changed to name your spouse as primary beneficiary and the trust as contingent beneficiary.
Too often a well crafted plan fails because a client changes advisors and executes new beneficiary forms without thought to prior planning. This pitfall is best avoided by periodically reviewing your estate plan AND your beneficiary designations, to ensure that they are integrated with your existing plan. Periodic review of your plan with your attorney is also recommended.