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What Are Probate Assets?

In general, probate assets are those listed exclusively in the decedent's name at death, or that are otherwise owned only by the decedent and contain no provision for automatic succession of ownership at the decedent's death. Assets that are owned by joint tenancy or assets whose beneficiaries are readily ascertainable and identifiable, such as a life insurance policy, are not deemed probate assets subject to probate court proceedings.

There are several different types of probate assets. The common denominator amongst probate assets is that they were owned by a decedent and are subject to probate court proceedings as comprising the decedent's estate. The purpose of the probate court proceedings is so that the probate assets may be transferred to the decedent's designated heirs from the decedent's name and ownership.

Individual Assets

The first type of probate assets is individual assets. This type of assets encompasses everything belonging to the decedent and titled solely in the decedent's name. This property has no other owners or beneficiaries, nor is it payable at death to any party. A leading example of this type of individual asset is a bank account. Other recognized types of individual accounts include investment accounts, stocks, bonds, cars, boats, planes, real estate, and various business interests.

Tenant-in-Common Assets

This second type of asset consists of property that is titled in a decedent's name, along with at least one other person, as tenants in common. Examples of property that fits this type of asset description include jointly held bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks, bonds, cars, boats, planes, business interests and real estate.

There is an important exception from probate court proceedings made in this category of assets if a decedent takes certain key preparatory steps. If a decedent retitles his or her property held as tenant-in-common property in the name of a revocable living trust before he or she dies, then he or she can convert the interest into an asset that is exempt from probate proceedings.

Beneficiary Assets (With Predeceased Beneficiaries or Without Designated Beneficiary)

Beneficiary assets are assets such as those that are a payable-upon-death account or similar type of account, such as a health savings or medical savings account, life estate, life insurance policy, retirement account such as an IRA or 401(k), and/or annuity for which all named beneficiaries have predeceased the decedent in question, or for cases in which the decedent failed to name any beneficiary whatsoever.