Not every asset owned by a party at the time of death will pass under the direction of the will or through the laws of intestacy. It is important to understand the difference in how assets will pass to ensure proper estate planning. Probate assets, those passing through the will, are those for which there is no pre-existing designation as to who should get the asset. Examples of typical assets that will be subject to probate include individually owned bank accounts, cars, personal property, business interest, real property held as tenants in common, cash, and life insurance with no beneficiary. These types of assets should be distinguished from any account with a beneficiary designation, non-probate assets, as those accounts will pass to the beneficiary.

You should also identify which accounts you hold jointly with other individuals. Generally, joint accounts will usually go to the other party whose name is on the account by operation of law.

Assets that are put into joint names within a year of date of death can still be subject to inheritance tax on the full amount of the account though ultimately a non-probate asset. If assets have been put into joint names over a year from date of death then only 50% of the account would be taxed. Ideally, you should plan for how any applicable inheritance taxes on probate assets will be apportioned. By April M. Townsend