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A Reminder About Non-Probate Assets in Estate Planning

Don’t Forget Your Beneficiary Designations: A Reminder About Non-Probate Assets in Estate Planning

By Brooke L. Dalrymple

Working with an attorney to prepare your Will, Trust documents, financial and healthcare Powers of Attorney, and HIPAA instruments is an integral part of the estate planning process.  However, it is imperative that you also consider how those assets known as “non-probate assets” will pass upon your death so that your well-thought-out estate plan functions as intended.

Probate assets are those assets which pass according to the terms of a Will, or as determined by law in the absence of a Will.  This would include, for example, an interest in real property owned solely by the decedent individually (and not by a trust), or a bank account in the name of the decedent without a beneficiary designation or which names the decedent’s estate as the beneficiary.

Non-probate assets are those assets with effective beneficiary designations or which pass pursuant to rights of survivorship or payable on death designations.  A retirement plan in which beneficiaries (and not the decedent’s estate) have been designated is a non-probate asset, as is property, such as a bank account, owned by the decedent with a joint tenant with a right of survivorship.  Life insurance proceeds from policies with beneficiary designations, and bank or brokerage accounts which are payable-on-death or transfer-on-death accounts, are also non-probate assets.

Non-probate assets do not pass in accordance with the terms of your Will (unless all designated beneficiaries are deceased at the time you pass away or your estate is the designated beneficiary).  Therefore, you must identify your non-probate assets and review how they are structured to ensure that they will be distributed to the proper beneficiaries.  An attorney can review your assets with you and provide guidance on how to coordinate beneficiary designations to accomplish your estate planning goals.

If you have questions or need assistance with estate planning please contact Brooke Dalrymple at (919) 821-7700 or email

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