By Mary Randolph
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Extra resources for 8 Ways to Avoid Probate, 5th edition 2004
Special Rules If You’re Married or Divorced Most married people choose their spouses to inherit the money in a retirement account. It’s often a good choice for financial reasons as well as personal ones, as discussed below (see Section 2). If you want to name a different beneficiary, you may run into complications from several state and federal laws, intended to make sure your spouse isn’t left out in the cold if you die first. Their effect depends on the kind of retirement account you have and where you live.
Naming Your Estate You can name your own estate as the beneficiary of a retirement plan— but doing so ensures that the money in the account will have to go through probate before being distributed. And if you die before age 70½, all the money will have to be withdrawn in five years. If you die after age 70½, whoever inherits the account will have to continue making withdrawals as fast as you would have. So the smart course is simple: don’t do it. 7. Naming a Trust If you’ve set up a living trust to avoid probate (see Chapter 6), good for you—but your trust should probably not have anything to do with your retirement accounts.
Beneficiary. 4. Your Spouse’s Rights You may not have complete freedom to dispose of the funds in a bank account—even if it’s in your name—as you wish. Your spouse (or in California or Vermont, your registered domestic partner) may have rights, too. It depends on your state’s law. COMMUNITY PROPERTY STATES NON-COMMUNITY PROPERTY STATES Alaska* Arizona California Idaho Louisiana Nevada New Mexico Texas Washington Wisconsin All other states *Only if spouses sign a community property agreement. 1 / 14 8 WAYS TO AVOID PROBATE You can’t shortchange creditors or family.
8 Ways to Avoid Probate, 5th edition 2004 by Mary Randolph