A comprehensive estate plan typically encompasses much more than just a Last Will and Testament.
For most people, it also includes things such as a life insurance policy, investment plans, trusts and
even documents that you may not think of as estate planning documents like titles to property. Ideally,
all of these documents will be coordinated; however, the world doesn’t always operate under ideal
circumstances. Sometimes, two or more estate planning documents conflict.
Imagine, for example, that you execute a Last Will and Testament that specifically bequeaths all of your
estate assets to your two children in equal shares. This seems clear enough right? After your death
though, an old retirement plan surfaces that lists your ex-spouse as the beneficiary. In addition, your
children realize that your bank account lists your son as the “payable on death” designee. Although you
only added him for convenience sake, this complicates the probate of your estate. The question then
becomes which document controls the distribution of your retirement account assets and your bank
You should always check with your estate planning attorney for specific questions; however, in
general, an asset that is jointly titled or that includes a beneficiary designation typically controls the
disposition of that asset after the death of the owner even if the terms of a Will appear to conflict
with the document. In the above example, your ex-spouse would likely receive the assets held in the
retirement account and your son would likely be the sole owner of the bank account even though your
Will specifically indicated that your two children alone were to split everything equally.
Because of the possibility of a conflict, be sure to review all of your estate planning documents with your
estate planning attorney.
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