When someone dies and leaves real (house, land) and/or personal property, it must be legally transferred to the individual’s heirs or beneficiaries. This is called probate. In some cases, probate can be avoided, regardless of whether someone dies with or without a will.
If you die with a will, the individuals named in your will are beneficiaries. These people can be your family, they can someone else, but because you named them in your will, they are called beneficiaries.
If you die without a will, the State of Florida has laws that designate how your property, or estate, will be divided. If you die without a will, your heirs are entitled to your property. In most cases, heirs are family.
Planning to Avoid Probate
Regardless of whether you die with or without a will. if there is the property that was not designated to go to someone you chose during your lifetime, your estate may very well have to be probated. All it takes is planning and follow-through to make sure you designate beneficiaries and in many cases avoid probate.
So, how can you avoid probate?
Pay on Death Accounts. This is an easy way to keep money out of probate. While alive, you can designate who you would like to be the beneficiary of your bank account(s). It can be more than one person. This type of account is easy to set up, there are no limits to the amount of money in the account, it is free to set up, and it is easy for the beneficiary to claim the money after you die. While you are alive, though, the beneficiary does not have a right to the account. It is yours to do with how you choose. A drawback to a Pay on Death Account is you cannot name back-up beneficiaries.
Naming a Beneficiary on your Retirement Accounts (IRA/401K). If you are married, in most cases, you name your spouse as your beneficiary to such accounts. This is not always the case. The best way to handle this is if you want someone other than your spouse to be the beneficiary of your retirement account, have your spouse put in writing that they are aware of this and they consent to you having a different beneficiary. It is easy to designate a beneficiary and it is easy for the beneficiary to claim the money in the account.
Name a Beneficiary on your Government Savings Bonds. Many people still have US Savings Bonds. If you do not have a beneficiary designated, you should consider naming one. If you do not have a beneficiary designated, the bonds will have to be cashed out and placed in an estate bank account to be probated. If the bond is not mature, there are penalties and you will not receive the face value of the bond. Designating a beneficiary on a bond is easy to do. Contact the US Treasury about adding a beneficiary, it is simply done online. Remember, you will the beneficiary’s tax identification number in order to make the designation.
Name a Beneficiary on your Life Insurance Policy(ies). If you have a beneficiary on your life insurance policy, it will be easy for the beneficiary to claim the proceeds.
If you do not designate a beneficiary, the policy will have to be cashed out and the proceeds will go into an estate bank account to be divided up amongst one’s heirs or beneficiaries during the probate of your estate.
Joint Tenancy with Right of Survivorship. If you have real property, you may want to consider owning the property with someone else. If the property is owned as a joint tenancy with right of survivorship here in Florida, it is easy for the survivor to transfer the property to themselves. There can be more than one joint tenant. A joint tenancy is easy to create.