Crossing the Finish Line – Critical Steps in Finalizing Your Estate Plans

There are certain tasks in life that if you don’t complete the last step, the rest is all for naught. This is particularly true in estate planning. Every estate planner has a story about a client who set up extensive planning but then either neglected to sign and execute the documents and/or never retitled assets and accounts appropriately. These last steps are essential to ensuring assets are transferred according to your wishes.

Executing Your Documents

In simple terms, “executing” simply means properly signing your finalized documents so that they are valid and legal. Be sure to check with the regulations in your state on the specifics of this process. In many states, executing a will requires that it be signed by both the testator (the person who created the will) in addition to two witness who are “disinterested” parties, meaning that they do not stand to benefit from the will in any way. Some states also require that signatures be notarized.

For trusts, most states require notarization. The goal is to mitigate fraud as the notary public is verifying you have provided proof of identification and are signing willingly without intimidation or duress. There are states that require additional witnesses be present so, again, be sure you understand and fully meet the regulations of your state.

Funding Your Trust(s)

“Funding” refers to the process of transferring ownership of assets to a trust. This means physically changing the titles or ownership names of your assets from your individual name to that of your trust. To do this requires some time and effort. For financial accounts, you will need to complete a change-of-ownership form with each of the money managers or institutions where you have an account. You may also need to show a “certificate of trust” document as proof of the trust’s existence. Retitling financial accounts to fund a trust is a service that Altair provides for clients.

Typically, you will want to include your home and other real estate within your trust which involves several steps. For starters, you will need to update the property deed to name the trust as the owner. You may need the help of an attorney for this depending on your state’s requirements and the complexity of the current ownership. You will then need to have the new deed notarized and filed with the local county clerk’s office. If there is still a mortgage on the property, the lender should be contacted and may need to approve the title change. You will also want to notify your homeowner, liability and title insurance providers to find out if your current policies need to be updated to reflect the trust as the property owner.

For other property such as artwork, furniture, jewelry, collectibles, etc., you can create an “assignment of property” document that inventories these specific things and designates the trust as the owner. It is recommended that this document include photos and descriptions and for items that are insured, and the associated policy should be transferred from your personal name to the trust.

There are some assets that cannot or should not be titled to a trust. Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs), 401Ks, and Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) should remain in your name but you can designate the trust as either the primary or contingent beneficiary of these assets. This can be done by completing a change-of-beneficiary form with the issuer. The tax rules governing retirement plan beneficiaries are complex and you should consult with your trust and estate attorney before making beneficiary designations.

Prioritize These Steps

Executing your estate documents and funding your trust(s) are not difficult tasks but they do take time and it can be easy to put these things off. If these last steps are not completed, an estate plan is just an outline of what the grantor had hoped would be done with his/her assets with no legal authority or value. People often mistakenly assume that the retitling of their assets is done by their attorney as part of their estate planning when, in most cases, this work falls to the client. Again, Altair assists clients with this work. It is essential in ensuring that our clients’ wishes will be carried out, and it saves their loved ones from the hassle of the probate process.

The material shown is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as accounting, legal, or tax advice. Altair Advisers LLC is a registered investment adviser with the Securities and Exchange Commission; registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training. While efforts are made to ensure information contained herein is accurate, Altair Advisers cannot guarantee the accuracy of all such information presented. Please see Altair Advisers’ Form ADV Part 2A and Form CRS at for additional information about Altair Advisers’ business practices and conflicts identified.