A very popular way to pass assets upon one's death is by the use of a beneficiary designation. This is very commonly used in life insurance, company retirement plans and IRA's. It has also become available in many types of brokerage and bank accounts. While typically free and easy to use, there can also be many disadvantages to using beneficiary designations.
Joint Tenants with Rights of Survivorship-
A very popular method of passing assets is by the use of joint tenants with rights of survivorship. Upon the death of an individual, the asset would pass to the surviving joint tenant. While also typically free and easy to use, this may be appropriate between husband and wife and in smaller estates. However, between other parties, including parents and children, and in larger estates, caution should be used in using this method as there can be a lot of pitfalls involved.
Revocable Living Trusts-
Revocable living trusts have become a very popular method in passing assets upon one's death. These Trusts have many advantages including: probate avoidance, delaying distributions to minors or in larger estates, and possible estate tax advantages.
Last Will and Testament-
If assets do not pass under one of the methods described in Sections 1-3, above, the assets will either pass according to the individual's Last Will and Testament or they will pass intestate according to the State's laws of distribution. A Will does not avoid probate; in fact, it is instructions to the probate court.