Whether you don’t want the government to oversee of the dissipation of your assets when you die, or you don’t want to put your family members through the cost and trouble of the probate process, choosing to avoid probate is a personal decision. But it takes planning and meticulous detail so that you don’t leave any assets vulnerable. Maryland law offers you several options.
Create new deeds for every piece of real estate you own. Decide who you would like to inherit each piece of property and then transfer the properties from your own name into the names of you and the person you want to receive it. Hold title as either joint tenants or tenants by the entirety with rights of survivorship. The property will then bypass probate when you die and go directly to its co-owner.
Check the beneficiary designations on all life insurance policies, pension plans or retirement plans you have. Make sure the beneficiary named is not your estate. As long as each asset has a named beneficiary other than your estate, these assets will pass directly to that person and will avoid probate. Maryland’s contract law governs them, not probate law.
Visit or contact all the financial institutions where you have bank accounts, investment accounts or stocks. Register each as a “transfer on death” account to the beneficiary of your choice. The funds will move directly to that beneficiary when you die, without having to go through the probate process. Maryland law recognizes TOD accounts, but they have to be registered as such with each financial institution.
Establish a trust for everything else that you own that cannot pass directly to a named beneficiary. For example, you can’t place a TOD registration on a vehicle in Maryland, so to avoid probate you would have to move ownership of it into a trust to go to a beneficiary when you die. You can also place other assets in the trust if you prefer this method over TOD designations or new deeds. Transfer ownership of everything you own into the name of your trust. Name yourself as the trustee so that you can continue to add new assets or sell old ones. Name a successor trustee to take over for you after your death and distribute the assets to the beneficiaries you choose. Any assets in the trust would not pass through probate because the trust now owns them, and the trust does not die with you -- it continues to exist and function.
Have an attorney review all your documents after you’ve completed them. If they’re not correct, or if you neglect to transfer an asset either with a named beneficiary or to your trust, that single piece of property will require the probate process. If you don’t have a will, then the property will pass to one of your heirs according to Maryland’s inheritance laws. Like all states, Maryland has a list of “successors” who will inherit your property if you die intestate, or without a will. The people in line to inherit might not be those you want to receive your property. You’ll also want to be sure that your trust is revocable, not irrevocable. If you create an irrevocable trust, you relinquish a great deal of control over your own assets during your lifetime.
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