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Alternatives to wills

Some Delaware residents may have heard that it is better to set up an estate plan without a will to avoid the delay, cost and lack of privacy that probating a will creates. While a will is still the best option in some circumstances, other vehicles for transferring property such as a trust are sometimes preferable. Trusts may be among the most common alternatives to wills.

Another option is giving gifts during one's lifetime. People in these circumstances should make certain that they do not cause tax problems for themselves or for recipients. The gift must also be completed. This means there must be intent, delivery and acceptance. If a person leaves a gift for someone but dies before delivery or acceptance, the intended recipient may not be able to keep the gift, particularly if there is a will or other documentation that contradicts the gift.

Naming a beneficiary for a life insurance policy is another way of passing money down to a loved one. Another option is joint ownership or survivorship. For example, a couple might own a home, and in the event of one's death, the entirety of the home passes to the other. A transfer-on-death designation is another option that allows property to be passed on to someone without a will.

All of these options can be complicated, and an individual who wishes to determine which estate planning option would be best may want to sit down with loved ones and an attorney to discuss the issues. Considerations may include the size of the estate and potential taxes, the need for privacy and whether or not the person has been previously married and has children from earlier relationships.

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