How Pour-Over Wills Ensure Safe Transfer of Assets

by | Jul 11, 2018 | Articles

An Alabama court recently unsealed American novelist Harper Lee’s will. This came after The New York Times filed a lawsuit to review the document.

Lee, who was 89 when she died in 2016, set up a living trust in 2011. Author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird,” Lee directed that her estate – including her literary property – be transferred into her trust via a pour-over will, the NYT reported.

A trust is private, so by using a pour-over will, the notoriously private Lee ensured that what happens to her assets will remain private, too.

The use of a revocable or living trust and a pour-over will is a way to ensure that personal estate assets become part of the trust estate upon your death.

Benefits of a Pour-Over Wills

A pour-over will is especially useful if assets are wide and various, and by transferring those properties into a trust, it ensures distribution according to the trust provisions.

Assets might not make it into a trust before death for a variety of reasons. They might be acquired after the trust is set up, such as a painting or property. Sometimes, items are left out of a trust by mistake – or even left out intentionally. Or, items such as a car or boat could fail to be titled to the trust, meaning that they will be looked at as personal property.

Without pour-over wills – assuming there is no simple will that distributes property to individuals – heirs will inherit according to specific state law. This means that someone not named in the trust, meaning that they will be looked at as personal property.

Using a pour-over will can help simplify things. Once assets are transferred into the trust, everything is controlled by one document. The executor or trustee has an easier time distributing assets.

The Drawbacks

One disadvantage to pour-over wills is true for a simple will as well. Most pour-over wills that transfer assets must go through probate. Depending on how long probate takes, the process can put assets in limbo. Waiting for a resolution to the case leaves beneficiaries in a holding pattern.

Leaving too many assets in the pour-over will can complicate and draw out proceedings. So, you and your heirs are better off transferring nearly all assets into the trust.

Despite these issues, if you establish a trust you are well-served by setting up a pour-over will to protect assets. If you have questions about the different protections a simple will, a pour-over will, and a trust can provide, we are happy to help explain how to devise a strategy that meets your unique planning needs.

We hope this information is useful to you and your families. If you have a question, please do not hesitate to call our office.

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