Beneficiary designations (or sometimes called TOD [Transfer on Death] or POD [Payable on Death] designations) may be placed on almost any financial asset.  A Non-Probate Transfer at Death Deed (“TOD Deed”) may be used to transfer Wisconsin real estate without court to whomever the grantor names in the TOD Deed.  If a Decedent designates beneficiaries on all but fifty thousand dollars’ worth of his or her property, the Decedent will have avoided probate. While this strategy is not appropriate in all situations, it is often a simple and cost-effective way to avoid probate.  But such a strategy may lead to unintended circumstances if the Decedent includes general bequests in his or her Will.

A Will only governs probate property (i.e., a Decedent’s property that has no beneficiary designation and no surviving joint owner).  Therefore, if a Decedent designates beneficiaries on nearly all his or her assets, there may be insufficient funds governed by the Will to satisfy the bequests made therein.

Consider the following as an example.  Grandma Betty has three adult children who are on good terms and get along.  Betty wants to leave a sum of two thousand dollars to each of her ten grandchildren with the residue of her estate equally among her three children.  Betty executes a Will accordingly and then proceeds to designate her children as beneficiaries of all her financial accounts.  Upon Betty’s death, she owns tangible personal property of de minimums value and has no car or real estate.  Her remaining wealth is contained in her financial accounts which pass directly to her children pursuant to the beneficiary designations.  Consequently, there is no property governed by her Will and her grandchildren get nothing.

There are numerous work arounds to avoid this unintended result, as discussion of which is beyond the scope of this blog.  Simply know that your beneficiary designations must be properly correlated with your Will.  If you are not confident in this, now is the best time to review the same.

This blog post is provided for informational purposes only and by its very nature is general.  This information is not intended as legal advice and should not be relied upon.

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