How Will Your Estate Be Divided?

As you consult with an estate lawyer and make plans to ease your loved ones through the process after your death, it might help to have some guidance in making those decisions. Read on to find out more about dividing up your estate and what it will mean for your loved ones.

What About Your Spouse?

Most states have probate laws that protect the current spouse of the deceased regardless of what might be in the will. If you don't mention a current spouse and one exists, the estate may be divided between your spouse and your adult children using a percentage. Speak with an estate attorney to find out how to initiate some documents that transfer the titles to vehicles, deeds to homes, and more to selected parties outside of probate.

Everything Is Divided

Those who are unmarried and have adult children can leave everything in equal measures to them ("per stirpes"). The will or the trust can say that the estate is divided between each adult descendant and leave it at that. In most cases, when an adult descendant is dead, their share of the estate goes to their children (grandchildren of the deceased). Some states, however, divide the share between any living adult children. While this may seem a fair way of doing things, dividing up a home, vehicle, piece of art or jewelry can be a challenge. It might be a good idea to discuss this with your children first.

Name Assets and Beneficiaries

For those who want to get more specific, each asset or group of assets may be assigned to specific beneficiaries. For instance, you might leave the house to child one, your investment account to child two, and your business to child three. Using this method also leaves you the opportunity to leave assets to an organization or charity. Wills cannot contain both per stirpes and named beneficiaries, however. If you do use the named beneficiary method, ensure that you update your will regularly to avoid leaving property to those who may no longer be alive, in the family, or interested in the asset.

Final Considerations

You might consider your pet dog, cat, or other animals part of your family but the law sees them as property. You can appoint someone to look after them using a pet trust, though. Some opt to leave money behind for their care.

Make a list of your assets and speak to an estate planning attorney about the best way for your wishes to be followed after your death.