In almost all cases, your will does not affect property that you have arranged to leave by another method. (There’s an exception in the state of Washington; see below.)
Property with a right of survivorship. If you hold property in joint tenancy, tenancy by the entirety or community property with right survivorship, your share of that property automatically belongs to the surviving co-owner after you die. A will provision leaving your share would have no effect unless all co-owners die simultaneously.
Property you place in a trust. Property you place in a trust passes automatically to the beneficiary named in the trust document; you cannot pass this property in your will. This includes property placed in a revocable living trust.
To learn more about living trusts, see the Living Trusts area of Nolo.com.
Property for which you’ve already named a beneficiary. There are many ways to pass property without a will or trust. You shouldn’t include in your will any type of property on this list:
Money in a pay-on-death bank account. If you want to change the beneficiary, contact the financial institution.
Property held in beneficiary (transfer-on-death or TOD) form. This may include stocks, bonds and—in the states that allow it—real estate or vehicles. To change the beneficiary, you’ll need to make a new beneficiary form, deed, or title document.
Proceeds of a life insurance or annuity policy for which you’ve named a beneficiary. To make changes, contact the insurance company.
Money in a pension plan, individual retirement account (IRA), 401(k) plan, or other retirement plan. You name the beneficiary on forms provided by the account administrator.
To learn more about these property ownership methods, most of which are designed to avoid probate court proceedings, see the Ways to Avoid Probate section of Nolo.com.
The state of Washington has changed some of the rules discussed above. If you like, you can leave the following types of property in your will:
If you set up one of these devices for leaving your property and then later use your will to change the beneficiary, the property goes to the person you name in your will. However, if you designate a new beneficiary after you make your will—for example, by updating the paperwork for a pay-on-death account or changing your living trust—the gift in the will has no effect. (See Wash. Rev. Code § 11.11.020.)
For more information about making your will, see the Wills area of Nolo.com.