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What is the difference between a probate and a non-probate asset?

Posted on March 29, 2021 by Chris Kirker

Understanding the difference between probate and non-probate assets is important to ensure a person’s estate is administered as they desire. Probate assets are distributed according to the owner’s will, or by state intestacy laws if the owner does not have a will. Non-probate assets are distributed as specified in a written instrument unique to the asset and do not pass under a will. 

The probate court distributes probate assets after going through the probate process. The probate process can be long and expensive, which means that the probate estate may be diminished by the time the assets are distributed to the named beneficiaries. Common examples of probate assets include: real property held in only the deceased person’s name; jewelry, cars, and other personal property; bank accounts held in only the deceased person’s name; and life insurance policies that name the deceased or their estate as the beneficiary. 

Non-probate assets pass directly to the beneficiary, bypassing the probate process entirely. They are typically assets that include a beneficiary designation – where the owner has named another person to acquire the asset. Common examples of non-probate assets include: real property and bank accounts held jointly with someone else that include a right of survivorship or transfer on death provision; property held in trusts; retirement plans; and life insurance policies that name an outside person as the beneficiary. Because non-probate assets do not pass under a will, if the owner chooses to change the beneficiary, the owner must change the named beneficiary for that specific asset—an updated will does not affect non-probate assets. 

If you would like to know more about the probate process or planning your estate, please contact Kirker|Davis today.

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