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The Basics of Beneficiary Accounts, Wills, and Trusts

The Basics of Beneficiary Accounts, Wills, and Trusts

If you are considering estate planning – which any adult should – you likely have heard various terms, including beneficiary accounts, wills, and trusts. These are all parts of a comprehensive estate plan used to pass on property and assets, and the following is a brief overview of each one. To discuss your specific estate planning questions or to learn more, contact a Santa Ana estate planning lawyer today.

Beneficiary Accounts

Most financial accounts have the option to add a beneficiary, which is the person or persons who will receive your assets after you pass away. The funds do not have to go through probate and, instead, will be issued directly to the beneficiaries who were designated. You can add beneficiaries to:

  • Bank accounts
  • Investment accounts
  • IRAs and 401ks
  • Life insurance policies

You can even make property titles and deeds so they transfer on death (TOD) to a beneficiary, so that property will skip probate. Make sure to update any existing beneficiary accounts any time you have a life event.


A will is a document that is often the foundation of an estate plan. Even if you have other estate planning tools in place, you should have a will to make the probate process easier on your loved ones. You can use a will to:

  • Designate who will be the personal representative of your estate
  • Name who you want to be the guardian of your minor children should it become necessary
  • List which probate property goes to which beneficiaries

When your family can submit a will to the probate court, it prevents the need for the court to appoint a personal representative and determine how property will be distributed according to California intestate laws. This can save your beneficiaries time, stress, and in many cases, money. It is important to officially and properly update your will if your property or beneficiaries change throughout your life.

Living Trusts

While a will helps to make probate easier, a living trust can work to avoid your property passing through probate altogether in many cases. You transfer your property and assets to the ownership of the trust, and you can still access and manage them during your lifetime. Then, you name a successor trustee who will distribute the property to beneficiaries according to your instructions. You can instruct for distributions to be made over time or even place conditions on them.

None of your trust property will be part of your probate estate. You can also draft a pourover will that transfers any remaining property you own to your trust upon your death.

Learn More from a Santa Ana Estate Planning Lawyer

If you want more information about how different estate planning tools can help you and your family, you should not hesitate to schedule a meeting with a Santa Ana estate planning attorney at the Law Offices of Roshni T. Desai. Contact us online or call 714.694.1200 today and begin protecting your estate and the ones you love.

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