Will Substitute Lawyers

Where You Need a Lawyer:

(This may not be the same place you live)

At No Cost! 

 Will Substitutes and Their Distinction from Traditional Wills

A will substitute is a legal mechanism that enables an individual to transfer their property to a designated beneficiary without undergoing the state probate process.

There are several legal methods available to achieve this objective, with each offering its own set of advantages and disadvantages.

Avoiding the probate process can positively affect the estate holder and their beneficiaries. One reason avoiding probate is advantageous is that the distribution of property through probate does not always align with the estate holder’s original intentions.

For example, an estate holder may have intended for a specific property to be transferred to Recipient A. However, due to issues like an invalid or unclear will, the probate process may result in the property being awarded to Recipient B instead.

Avoiding probate can also be beneficial because it can help protect the privacy of the estate holder and their beneficiaries.

When a will goes through probate, it becomes a matter of public record, which means that anyone can access and review the details of the will, including the assets and beneficiaries involved.

This lack of privacy can be undesirable for many people, especially if they have significant wealth or if they wish to keep their family affairs private.

By using estate planning tools such as living trusts or beneficiary designations, it may be possible to avoid probate and maintain greater privacy.

How are Will Substitutes Different from Other Wills?

Will substitutes differ significantly from valid and enforceable legal wills. When property is transferred to a beneficiary through a will, the distribution typically occurs only after the estate holder’s death, and the legal title to the property is not transferred until the estate holder has passed away.

In contrast, a will substitute may allow the title to an asset or property to be transferred to the beneficiary while the estate holder is still alive.

Although the physical asset or property might not be transferred, the legal title (i.e., the paperwork indicating ownership) is transferred through a will substitute.

What are the Different Types of Will Substitutes?

As mentioned earlier, several legal methods can be utilized as will substitutes, primarily to avoid the probate process.

Some examples of will substitute mechanisms include:

Rights of Survivorship

Survivorship rights can often facilitate the transfer of an estate holder’s property title. Generally, survivorship is granted through various ownership titles, such as “joint tenancy with right of survivorship” or “tenancy by the entirety.”

A married couple purchases a home together and takes title as “tenants by the entirety.” This form of ownership is only available to married couples and provides certain legal protections.

If one spouse passes away, their share of the property automatically transfers to the surviving spouse without the need for probate. The surviving spouse will become the sole owner of the property, and their ownership interest will not be subject to the claims of the deceased spouse’s creditors or estate beneficiaries.

By using survivorship rights in this way, the couple can ensure that their home passes smoothly and efficiently to the surviving spouse without the need for a lengthy probate process.


Trusts can be established with provisions that function as will substitutes. A “living trust” is a commonly used trust form for this purpose.

An estate holder creates a revocable living trust and transfers their assets into the trust during their lifetime. The living trust includes provisions that dictate how the trust assets should be distributed upon the estate holder’s death. These provisions function as a will substitute, as the trust will take priority over any conflicting provisions in the estate holder’s will.

By using a living trust in this way, the estate holder can avoid the probate process and potentially save time and money for their beneficiaries. The living trust can also provide greater flexibility and control over the distribution of assets, as the trust can be tailored to the estate holder’s specific wishes and can be modified during their lifetime if necessary.

Policies and Accounts

Certain policies and accounts, including life insurance policies and bank accounts payable upon death, enable individuals to bypass probate. Documents associated with these methods typically contain provisions stating “transfer on death” or “payable on death.”

An individual holds a life insurance policy with a death benefit of $500,000. They designate their spouse as the primary beneficiary and their children as the contingent beneficiaries. The life insurance policy contains a “transfer on death” provision, meaning that the death benefit will be paid directly to the named beneficiaries upon the policyholder’s death without probate.

Similarly, the individual holds a savings account at a bank with a balance of $100,000. They set up the account with a “payable on death” provision, naming their children as the beneficiaries. This means that upon the account holder’s death, the account balance will be paid directly to the named beneficiaries without probate.

By using these types of policies and accounts, the individual can effectively bypass the probate process for these specific assets and ensure that their beneficiaries receive the intended assets promptly and efficiently.

Beneficiary Designations

This approach often involves contracts that transfer property interests, such as retirement plans or individual retirement accounts (IRAs), with a named beneficiary assuming payments upon the holder’s death.

Using any of the methods above, will substitutes can avoid the probate process by legally transferring the property during the estate holder’s lifetime, eliminating the need for probate to effect the transfer.

Additionally, numerous other types of will substitutes may be available, depending on the individual’s state and local laws and the property itself.

You can have a valid will before your death and choose to use will substitutes for specific beneficiaries or property items requiring separate handling.

What are the Advantages of Will Substitutes?

As with any legal matter, will substitutes present various advantages and disadvantages.

Some potential benefits of will substitutes include:

  1. Lowering overall estate taxes, as the property title is typically removed from the estate listing;
  2. Saving time, expenses, and other resources that may be expended during the probate process;
  3. Preventing unwanted outcomes following the probate process, such as unequal property distribution or property awarded to incorrect beneficiaries; and
  4. Amending and executing a will substitute is generally easier and sometimes more cost-effective than a standard will.

What are the Disadvantages of Using a Will Substitute?

However, there are drawbacks to using a will substitute, such as potential additional costs and fees and negative tax consequences if not properly set up.

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help with a Will Substitute?

To navigate the complexities of estate matters and receive legal guidance, hiring a local will lawyer may be helpful for advice on different will substitutes and applicable laws.

An experienced lawyer can recommend the best will substitute for your situation and help prepare the necessary legal documents.

If you need court representation regarding a will substitute matter, your lawyer can also assist with that process.

Use LegalMatch to find the right will lawyer for your situation today.

Save Time and Money - Speak With a Lawyer Right Away

  • Buy one 30-minute consultation call or subscribe for unlimited calls
  • Subscription includes access to unlimited consultation calls at a reduced price
  • Receive quick expert feedback or review your DIY legal documents
  • Have peace of mind without a long wait or industry standard retainer
  • Get the right guidance - Schedule a call with a lawyer today!

16 people have successfully posted their cases

Find a Lawyer