Are CDs Good for My Estate Plan?

Certificates of deposit (CDs) are treated the same as other forms of property during the inheritance process.

Certificates of deposit (CDs) are a low-risk way of saving funds for the short term and earning a modest return on it. When you take out a standard CD, your bank or credit union guarantees that they will pay you a set return on your money. In exchange, you agree to leave your money untouched in the account.

Investopedia’s recent article, “Can You Bypass Probate With CDs?” says that because CDs are a low-risk, time-constrained investment, they’re popular among seniors and often form part of inheritance settlements. When the owner of a CD passes away, it can be inherited in one of three ways. Therefore, it’s a way to pass on money without the CD going through probate.

CDs are treated like any other account as far as inheritance. While probate is frequently used to decide who will inherit particular assets after someone dies, other ways of passing on accounts can be much simpler and less expensive than probate.

There are three common ways to inherit property; only one involves probate. First, some property is jointly owned, passing directly to the co-owner without probate. This applies to joint accounts (including joint CDs) and real estate owned jointly.

The second category is contract property, like life insurance, retirement accounts and non-retirement accounts with beneficiaries designated upon death. These designations override instructions in the will and pass outside of probate directly to the named beneficiary. These accounts are often designated as payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD). It is possible to add this designation to your CD account.

The third category is everything else. All property not covered above will generally have to go through probate.

If you want to avoid probate for the money you hold in your CD, there are two options available to you—you can either add a payable-on-death (POD) beneficiary to your account or hold it as a joint account. CDs can be held as joint accounts. However, the rules vary by state. In some states, if one joint account owner passes away, the other owner is automatically given full ownership of the account. If you inherit a CD in this way, it will typically continue to run in the way it was before. Once it reaches maturity, you can close it and withdraw the funds. In other states, if the joint owner of a bank account dies, the funds are divided between the surviving owner and the estate of the deceased.

Some CD accounts allow the owner to name a payable-on-death (POD) beneficiary. If the account owner dies, this person will automatically inherit the funds in a CD. These banks may terminate a CD when the account owner dies and allow the POD beneficiary immediate access to these funds. Other institutions will make them wait until the CD reaches maturity. In either case, the CD won’t have to go through probate.

Reference: Investopedia (August 23, 2022) “Can You Bypass Probate With CDs?”

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