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Understanding Pour-Over Wills

Eric H. Light, P.A. Aug. 16, 2023

Pour over will word represented by wooden letterIf you’re like most people, when you hear the term, “estate planning,” you’re either reminded that you haven’t yet got around to drafting a will, or you have but you know it likely needs to be updated or improved in some way. This could include making a simple revision, adding on a trust, or tailoring your estate plan in another way that meets your specific needs.  

Either way, it’s probably in your best interests to meet with an estate planning attorney to review what you already have or start a new plan from scratch. One option that may suit you that many people aren’t familiar with is called a pour-over will.  

If you’re in the Boca Raton, Florida, area and want to learn more about the advantages of a pour-over will, call me, Eric H. Light, P.A., to schedule a consultation.    

What Is a Pour-Over Will?

Most people are familiar with what a basic will does, but may want to know, how does a pour-over will work? This type of will works in conjunction with a revocable trust, and before getting into the specifics of a pour-over will, you’ll need to understand how a revocable trust works (and why you may want one). 

Revocable trust: A trust works in a similar manner to a will in that you can leave certain assets to your named beneficiaries that will be distributed to them after you pass away. The key difference between a will and a trust is that with a trust, you’ll transfer your assets over to a trustee while you’re still living. This means you won’t technically own them anymore, though you’ll still maintain control over them during your lifetime. Then, when you pass away, your trustee can distribute these assets to your beneficiaries immediately without having to go through the legal process of probate. A revocable trust means that you can change or amend it whenever you like while you’re still living, giving you more flexibility. When you only use a will, all the details of the will are made public, and they must be processed through the courts. 

When you use a pour-over will, any assets that have not already been placed in the trust at the time of your passing will “pour over” (i.e., be placed into) your revocable trust and distributed under the terms of the trust by your trustee.  

What Happens If I Don’t Have a Pour-Over Will?

Most people who set up a trust also use a will. Not everyone will need a pour-over will, but it’s worth asking the question, “What happens to assets that aren’t in a trust?” If you are using a trust, you know that any assets that you’ve placed in the trust are protected and your trustee can immediately transfer ownership over to your heirs. However, if you don’t also use a pour-over will, any assets that were left out of your trust will not be protected in the same way that assets in your trust are. 

For example, you may have assets that you haven’t gotten around to placing in your trust or assets that you've accumulated after you established your trust. If these assets are in a standard will but not a pour-over will, they will be administered under the terms of the will, not the trust. This means that they must go through probate and the details of these assets and beneficiaries will become public knowledge. They will also have to be administered by your executor instead of your trustee.  

Pros and Cons of a Pour-Over Will

Pros of using a pour-over will:  

  • Allows all your assets to be governed under the terms of the trust

  • Keeps information about who the assets will go to private

  • Simplifies the process of handling your estate for your family and loved ones

Cons of using a pour-over will: 

  • Pour-over assets will still need to move through probate before they can be placed under the trust

  • If you have a different person acting as the executor of the will and the trustee, conflicts may arise

The Duties of the Executor/Trustee

The last question you should be able to answer is, “What are the duties of the executor in a pour-over will?” The executor of a will and a trustee have similar roles in that they’re both responsible for distributing assets to your beneficiaries after you pass away (and for many people, these two roles may be filled by the same person). The main difference is that your executor will have to bring your will through the courts and complete the process of probate before any assets can be distributed (this includes addressing any debts and taxes and can take several months to complete), whereas a trustee can often transfer assets in a much shorter timeline.  

Obtain Reliable Legal Guidance

For help with any and all of your estate planning needs in and around the Boca Raton, Florida, area, reach out to me, Eric H. Light, P.A.