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Don't forget your bank accounts in your estate plan

Many people don't think of themselves as having an "estate" that they will be leaving to others after their death. However, even if you own don't own a home, have a stock portfolio or have accumulated little in the way of valuables, you likely have at least one bank account. If you don't codify who will get the funds in your account upon your death, it could end up in probate, creating unnecessary costs and inconvenience for your loved ones.

Sometimes, even people who draw up a detailed estate plan think little about their bank accounts. Even if you go over your accounts with your estate planning attorney, you may forget about some of them if their balances are small or you haven't used them for awhile.

There are steps that you can take to designate how the funds in your bank accounts will be disbursed. This is particularly important to do for any accounts where you have sole ownership. If you don't name a payable-on-death beneficiary on your account, it may need to go through probate. This is true even if you are married if your spouse isn't a co-owner of the account.

It's important to note that if you give your spouse (or anyone else) power of attorney on a sole ownership account, but it's not a payable-on-death account, that person won't have access to the funds after your death.

If you set up a living trust and include the account in the trust, it will be taken over by your successor trustee when you die. He or she will distribute the assets, along with the other assets in your trust, as you've designated. You'll need to change the ownership of your account to your living trust name to help avoid any complications.

Many married couples have joint bank accounts. Generally, when one owner dies, the other one automatically becomes the sole owner.

Whether your estate plan involves a simple will or numerous documents, it's important to designate what will happen to your bank accounts. Your California estate planning attorney can provide guidance and answer your questions.

Source: Huffington Post, "What Happens to Your Bank Account When You Die?," accessed Sep. 07, 2016

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