Most people consider the last will and testament the essential estate document, and wills are an important part of an estate. Life insurance, however, should never be overlooked when planning an estate. Read on to find out more about the part a life insurance policy will play as the estate proceeds through probate.
What Assets Skip Probate?
You might have heard about skipping probate. Don't misunderstand what is meant by this term. Skipping probate is not really skipping it. It's not possible to completely skip it because the probate process goes forward no matter what. Some states, however, do allow those with little to no income to file a shortened or simpler probate case. With that in mind, you can have your assets skip probate.
Probate includes a listing (the estate inventory) of estate property like homes, vehicles, and bank accounts. In most cases, everything the deceased owned goes on that list. You can take action to keep some of your property from being included with probate, however, and it's perfectly legal. Talk to your probate or estate lawyer about the following estate-skipping moves:
- Altering real estate deeds to include others.
- Adding special payable-on-death or transfer-on-death designations to accounts.
- Including property that would have been listed in a will in a revocable trust instead.
- Life insurance policies.
More About Life Insurance
Life insurance is not considered part of the estate because, upon the death of the insured, the policy automatically becomes the property of the beneficiary. As soon as the death certificate becomes available, the named beneficiary can collect the proceeds from the life insurance policy. If you are the named beneficiary, you will need to contact the insurance company that issued the policy, and you don't need to take any part in the probate process because of the policy. This is one instance, however, when probate might take an interest in a life insurance policy, and it's a good reason to keep your estate information up-to-date. If a beneficiary named in a life insurance policy is dead and no live back-up beneficiaries exist, the proceeds might become under the administration of the probate court.
It's not uncommon for family members of the deceased to have an understanding that the proceeds of a life insurance policy are to be used to pay for the burial and funeral. While this has been the traditional way, keep in mind that there are no rules that require a beneficiary to cover the final expenses in this manner. You might be wise to make separate plans for the burial and funeral and pay for it ahead of time.
For more information about dealing with life insurance and estates, speak to a probate or estate lawyer. A probate lawyer can help you set up your estate for after your passing.