When I meet with people to discuss estate planning, one of the questions that I always ask is “how do you own your assets”? Are they titled in your name alone or are they jointly owned with someone else? Do the assets have beneficiary designations such as Payable on Death provisions and if so, who is the beneficiary?
My inquiries are often times met with a blank stare or sometimes with a definitive answer followed up quickly with “I think.” I’m surprised how many people can’t tell me how they own their property. That is until this week.
We are in the process of refinancing our home. When we discussed the procedure we told the lender that our home is in a revocable living trust. Our lender then informed us that we were mistaken and that our home was in our names, not in a trust.
My initial reaction was “what kind of lender is this if they can’t read title work?" I distinctly remember recording a deed in trust. I maintained my indignation until I saw the title work at which time I simply said “Doooh.” It turns out the bank was right; our home is not in our trust.
For some reason I either failed to transfer title to the trust or we took it out of trust and put it into our own names. Whatever the reason, I was completely shocked by the way the home was titled. Up until that moment, I was completely convinced that the trust owned the home.
Now folks, I’ve been doing this a long time. I know that I’m not Clarence Darrow but I think I’m a fairly competent attorney. Despite more than 20 years of experience, my affairs were not in order. Like I said, “Doooh."
The moral of the story is how you hold title is really important to estate planning. Although you may have an unwavering belief in how your assets are owned, you could be wrong. That’s why it is important to check once in a while to make sure that things are the way they are supposed to be. Blow the dust off the estate planning portfolio and look. Then go online and verify the title to your real estate. The next time you are in the bank, ask them to verify the ownership of the account and the POD designations. Call your broker and your insurance agent just to make sure.
Incorrectly titled assets can at the very least result in unanticipated consequences and at worse, have a disastrous effect on your estate plan. Knowing how things are titled and understanding how it will affect your estate plan is really important. If you are wrong, bad things can happen.
As for me, I promise I’ll be a lot more patient and understanding when a client can’t answer my questions. Turns out, it could happen to anyone. Who knew?