When someone passes away, you may find yourself in charge of administering the decedent’s estate. You may have been nominated as successor trustee through a Trust, the personal representative (executor) through a Will, or the court may have appointed you to administer the estate. As the trustee, or personal representative, one of your responsibilities is to determine what assets are owned by the estate or trust. When you inventory the decedent’s property, will also need to be aware of how the property is owned. There are four primary forms of ownership: Individual, Joint, Trust and Beneficiary Designation.
Individual Ownership: It is fairly common for an individual to own property, both real and personal, in his or her own name. Individual ownership will trigger a probate if real property is owned. In limited circumstances individual ownership of non-real property assets can be transferred based on the decedent’s will without a probate.
Joint Ownership: Property held in “joint tenancy with full rights of survivorship” will pass to the surviving joint tenant. A certified death certificate and an Affidavit of Surviving Joint Tenant will be needed to show clear title in the survivor when dealing with real property. A certified death certificate is likely all that will be needed to clear title on bank accounts held as joint tenants with full rights of survivorship. The decedent’s fractional interest in property held as “tenants-in-common” will transfer to beneficiaries or the heirs of the decedent as if that interest had been owned individually.
Ownership in Trust: The decedent may have created a trust and transferred all ownership interest to the trustee of the trust. In that case, you will need to inventory the assets and distribute as outlined in the trust document. Utilization of a trust typically accomplishes a smoother transition of the assets to the beneficiaries of an estate with less cost and less time delay.
Beneficiary Designation: Certain property may be designated to transfer to a beneficiary at the death of the decedent. Personal property such as life insurance, pay-on-death bank accounts, and brokerage accounts, will require a certified death certificate to effect a transfer.
Taking an inventory of the property and its ownership is just one of the first steps in administering an estate or trust. It is recommended that you retain an experienced attorney to help you through this administrative process. Please contact our office and mention this article for a complementary ½ hour consultation if you are involved in trust or estate administration and would like to discuss the administration process in your situation.
JensenBayles, LLP provides a broad spectrum of legal services. Thomas J. Bayles has been actively providing advice in the areas of trusts, wills, probate and tax planning in the St. George area for over 18 years. Please visit our web site www.jensenbayles.com or call 435-674-9718 and ask for Thomas J. Bayles or Phillip G. Gubler. The information in this article is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be construed as legal advice.