When you die, your estate has to go through probate, which means that your creditors and other interested parties can make claims on assets that you planned to leave your nieces and nephews. However, you can avoid probate altogether and pass your monetary assets to your heirs simply by creating a trust. The trustee who manages the trust can disburse your cash assets upon your death, in which case your nieces and nephews do not have to contend with a potentially lengthy probate process.
Review your bank account statements and decide how much money you want to leave to each niece and nephew. Go to your bank and provide a bank representative with the names of your nieces and nephews and instruct the banker to add the nieces and nephews as pay-on-death beneficiaries on your accounts. The beneficiaries do not have to sign anything until you have died, but you must sign a new signature card that reflects the fact that the account now belongs to you "in trust for" your beneficiaries.
Contact your broker and ask your broker to add your nieces and nephews as beneficiaries on your brokerage holding accounts. On both brokerage and bank accounts, your state's laws may allow you to specify each beneficiaries share of the account, but in many states the assets are split equally between all the beneficiaries. Sign a new brokerage account agreement that shows your name, followed by the words "Transfer On Death," and then lists the names of your beneficiaries.
Write a list of all of your assets. Give the asset list to an estate attorney and ask the attorney to use that information to create a revocable living trust to which you can transfer ownership of your assets. Provide the attorney with the names of your nieces and nephews and tell the attorney much much money each of them should receive. You must select someone to act as the trustee of the trust, although with a revocable trust you still have the right to make changes at any time.
Ask the attorney to prepare a pour-over will for you. This will covers all of your assets that are not listed in the trust either because you forgot to include the assets or because you have yet to acquire those assets. The pour-over will directs the probate judge to have all of your other assets transferred to your trust account and once inside the trust, those assets are disbursed to your nieces and nephews in accordance with the terms of the trust.
If all of your assets are in the form of cash then you can save money by not hiring an attorney to create a formal trust on your behalf and just adding payable on death, or POD, designations to your accounts. The POD designation on bank accounts amounts to a legal form of a trust and your nieces and nephews can access your account once they provide your bank with a copy of your death certificate. If you do create a formal trust, you can retain a measure of control with a revocable trust, but with an irrevocable trust you cannot make any amendments, so you cannot change your beneficiaries or your trustee after the trust takes effect.
Some people add relatives as co-owners of their bank accounts before they die so that the surviving owner can continue to use the account after the original owner dies. However, if you add a niece or nephew to your account then you are giving them legal access to the money in the account while you are still alive. Furthermore, state laws vary, and in some states, when a joint account owner dies, her share of the account goes through probate rather than to the surviving account owner.