A recent article in the Star Ledger addressed the issue of what a beneficiary should do when they have been assured of receiving property by will but are disconnected from the process of estate administration, have no copy of the will, and have not yet heard anything concerning where the process of estate administration is at.
The question, fist off, involves the difference between probate and non-probate property. Probate is the process by which the deceased person’s probate estate is transferred to his or her heirs or beneficiaries. When a person dies without a will, state statutes determine who is first in line to receive their property. Those statutes basically make an educated guess about how the deceased person would wish to distribute their property. If a person dies leaving a will, though, they court has to go through the process of testing the validity of the will, paying creditors, appointing an executor, and then ensuring that the will is properly followed in estate administration.
Because much of a deceased person’s property will pass to beneficiaries through non-probate avenues, there is not always a substantial amount that will pass through a person’s will.
Non-probate property includes life insurance, IRAs, as well as joint accounts and assets held in trust. A will does not, in most cases, determine who receives these assets, since they go directly to the named beneficiary. Any asset held in trust during the deceased person’s lifetime passes to the person or persons named in the trust. A beneficiary should keep in mind that the deceased person’s will, under which they have been assured of receiving property, does not apply to these types of transfers.
In our next post, we’ll continue with this topic.
Source: Star Ledger, “After sister’s death, questions about will, inheritance,” Karin Price Mueller, 23 May 2011.