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Are all assets subject to the probate process?

Designing an estate plan that meets all of one's wants and needs can be somewhat challenging. Wanting to get it right so that one is fully protected, assets go to the right people, and loved ones can avoid arguments and a lengthy probate process is certainly understandable. Asking questions is the only way to ensure the final product meets one's goals. One common question asked by Massachusetts residents is: Are all assets subject to the probate process?

The simple answer to this question is no. Certain assets are deemed non-probate assets. Such assets include:

  • Anything jointly owned
  • Anything with a payable on death -- or similar -- designation
  • Assets placed in a revocable living trust
  • Assets payable to designated beneficiaries

Knowing this often prompts another question: Is having an estate plan really needed then? If all of one's assets are jointly owned, have assigned beneficiaries or POD designations, it may be tempting to avoid creating an estate plan. One could certainly choose not to put one together and hope everything works out in the end. Technically, all assets should go to the right people. The problem is that some steps taken to avoid probate can backfire.

There is nothing wrong with having non-probate assets. However, several things can happen that will prevent those assets from ending up in the right hands. For example, family members may still fight about them, or creditors may swoop in and seize them. Creating an estate plan with the assistance of counsel can offer increased protection for Massachusetts residents' non-probate assets so they end up in the proper hands.

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