Do I have an estate?

By Nicole T. Livingston, Esq. l Baradel Council, Lawyers

As we move into the New Year, now is the time to prioritize creating or updating your estate plan. A question I am often asked is: “Do I have an estate? “

People sometimes think they don’t have an estate or that their estate is too small to require estate planning. Anyone who owns property has an estate. The first conversation when meeting with a potential client is to look at the assets they own.

What assets are included in your estate?

Real estate usually comes to mind first. Title to real estate is determined by examining the deed, not the trust deed. The trust deed is the mortgage and does not always reflect who owns the building. The deed describes the grantee or purchaser of the property.

If you are married, the property can be owned as a tenant in its entirety, which is a single property for spouses only. If you own property with another person who is not your spouse, the property will be titled either as joint tenants with right of survivorship, or as common tenants. This is important to determine because common tenants pass according to your last will and will, or through intestate law if you have not made a will. The roommate automatically passes to the other person named in the deed. We also need to assess the contents of the property as part of your estate.

Cash accounts such as checks, savings, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts are included in your estate. Again, we need to look at the title of the asset whether you hold the account in your name alone or jointly with another person. Other investment assets like brokerage accounts, stocks, bonds, and mutual funds are like cash assets, and we also need to figure out what those assets are called. Also included in your estate are retirement accounts, such as IRAs, 401 (k), 403 (b), TSPs, and annuities.

Other assets include the value of your life insurance policy, vehicles and boats, and business property.

Everyone has an estate, whether it’s large with multiple accounts or someone who has only one checking account in their name. Planning as to who should receive the assets, when they will receive the assets, and how they will receive the assets is important to all clients. Whether you have a small estate or a large estate, you must have an estate plan.

Nicole T. Livingston is an estate and trust lawyer in Annapolis with extensive experience helping individuals and families plan for their future. Contact Livingston at 410-268-6600 or [email protected].

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