Gary served as executor of his dad’s estate. Molly prepared a complete estate plan, which she updated every year. James was concerned that the executor of his mother’s estate was not doing a good job. All three of these people at some point probably asked themselves, “What is a probate estate asset?” Frankly, it is not as cut and dried as it may seem.
When someone dies, they leave behind an estate, whether they owned a lot of property or just a few personal effects. And whether they left a Will or not, their estate will go through probate so the probate estate assets can be distributed to the right heirs. A probate estate asset, then, is the property of a deceased person that is transferred to heirs through probate.
The following types of property become probate assets:
However, not all assets pass through probate.
As an example, Gary’s dad was the sole owner of a home, a savings account, and an automobile. He was unmarried at the time he died. If he had titled his home and automobile differently, they could have passed to Gary without going through probate. Had Gary’s dad named Gary the beneficiary of his savings account, it, too, would have passed directly to Gary. Instead, his property was subject to probate. Gary will have to wait to collect his inheritance. Most probate assets are not distributed to the heirs until the probate proceeding is finalized.
Molly updated her estate plan on a regular basis. With her estate planning lawyer’s assistance, she was able to keep most of her assets from becoming probate estate assets. Some property was titled with a joint owner who had right of survivorship. Some property will pass to heirs who have been designated as beneficiaries.
James was concerned that the personal representative of his mother’s estate did not understand how to manage her estate. Some of the property that became part of the probate estate was difficult to protect or needed to be maintained. For example, she owned an extensive wine collection and four prize-winning Shiba Inus. These assets require special care until probate is over. A better idea would have been for his mother to avoid probate for these assets. For example, she could have established a trust then used her assets to fund the trust. After her death, the trust assets –including the wine collection and dogs – would instead have passed directly to the trust beneficiaries who could begin caring for them.
John Mangan is an experienced Florida estate planning attorney, who has been board certified in Wills, Trusts & Estates by the Florida Bar. Call Law Offices of John Mangan, P.A. at 772-324-9050 to set up an appointment or use our online Contact Form.