PONDER THE ASSETS you own that aren’t in a trust or inside a retirement account. We are typically talking about items such as your home, car and taxable financial accounts. Will these assets pass directly to your heirs, or will they go through probate and be governed by your will? It will depend on how they’re titled.

Assets held solely in your name will go to whomever you named in your will. One exception: If you title your bank and investment accounts as payable on death or transfer on death, those assets will bypass probate and go directly to the named beneficiaries.

What about jointly owned assets? If you own, say, a home with your spouse and you’re listed as joint tenants with right of survivorship, your house will pass directly to your spouse, assuming you die first.

There’s a variation on joint tenancy with right of survivorship that is known as tenancy by the entirety. Only spouses can use this ownership arrangement. It isn’t recognized in most community property states and also some common law states. To see a map of states that offer tenancy by the entirety, head to What’s the advantage of tenancy by the entirety? Unlike with joint tenants with right of survivorship, you can’t transfer your ownership stake without the consent of your spouse. This can provide protection from creditors if one of you is sued.

Finally, if you own property as tenants in common, there is no right of survivorship. While joint tenants are equal owners of a property, tenants in common can have ownership stakes that are different in size. If you own assets as a tenant in common, they would pass to whomever you named in your will.

Next: Federal Estate Taxes

Previous: Naming Beneficiaries

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