We typically suggest to think about financial holdings in three categories:
(1) cash accounts (checking and savings)
(2) taxable brokerage accounts; and
(3) retirement accounts (401k, IRA, etc)
Although some situations may vary, and you should always consult your attorney first, for most Probate avoidance purposes, we generally suggest that our clients take the following approach:
IRA and 401k: designate your spouse as primary beneficiary (as an individual), and your children as contingent beneficiaries (as individuals). There is no need to involve the trust here.
Checking account: Change ownership to the trust; the bank will provide you with a form to do this (once your trust is signed). Alternatively, if you prefer, you can instead designate beneficiaries on this account.
Taxable brokerage accounts: Change ownership to the trust; the brokerage will provide you with a form to do this (once your trust is signed). Alternatively, if you prefer, you can instead designate beneficiaries on this account.
With the above being said, keep in mind that changing ownership to the trust or designating individual beneficiaries both avoid Probate, so it’s ultimately a matter of consulting your attorney as to which method to use for every financial account/product.
For joint accounts, you generally do not need to put your spouse as beneficiary, as the surviving joint owner will automatically get the account. For joint accounts, you generally only need to list your children as beneficiaries (or retitle in the name of the trust). Please note that if ownership is held by the trust, this would override any beneficiary designations you make on the account.
For any accounts where you have designated beneficiaries, after both you and your spouse pass, the beneficiaries would present a Death Certificate to the financial institution and fill out a form to be provided by the financial institution. The funds would then be transferred to the beneficiaries (outside of Probate).
Finally, we suggest that you provide your beneficiaries and trustees with a list of all accounts / assets so that they have all the necessary information available to them, when needed. We recently started offering a “Digital Locker” as part of our services, in order to allow clients to securely store all of their asset information online.