How would you prove you own an asset? You would search for a legal document. For example, the deed at the county recorder proves you own your residence. The signature card at the bank proves you own your savings account. The contract at the life insurance company proves you own your insurance policy and proves who the beneficiary is. The stock certificate proves you own your stock. The title proves you own your car.
Now, please understand one simple fact. These legal documents override and prevail over your will and trust. For example, if your trust requires at your death that your bank account be distributed to your three children, but you listed on the signature card at the bank your granddaughter’s name as a co-owner, guess what?
Your granddaughter owns the account at your death. It matters not what your trust says. You have created a problem–a potentially serious one –because you misunderstood how assets are owned, controlled, and transferred at your death. These ownership problems become even more nasty when dealing with highly valuable assets like life insurance or qualified retirement plans or business interests.
As you understand–really understand–how assets are owned, controlled, and transferred, you will begin to understand why cheap internet or software documents are so inadequate and so dangerous:
(1) these cheap documents often seriously contradict asset ownership documents, meaning that survivors are thrown into a state of confusion, with litigation at worst or strained relationships at best;
(2) when these cheap documents are not coordinated with the asset ownership documents, the documents (inexpensive as they were) were a complete waste of money: they are not worth the paper they are printed on; and in fact they often end up causing expensive problems; and
(3) you begin to understand that even those who coordinate asset ownership documents with these cheap internet/software trusts often still do not really understand how assets are owned and transferred and they end up making even more serious mistakes, resulting in unnecessary taxes and litigation.
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