What Assets Pass Without Going Through Probate Court?
For many families, the vast majority of a loved one's assets are not actually subject to probate court proceedings after they die. If a married couple jointly owns their home, title automatically passes to the surviving spouse. Retirement and other investment funds will also pass automatically, if you have provided beneficiary designations to the financial institution. Life insurance proceeds also pass automatically so long as the designated beneficiaries are still alive.
A quick check before someone passes to make sure that beneficiary designations are up to date can save the family a lot of time and money down the road. If you jointly own real estate with someone who is not your spouse, you should also check to be sure that the property is held as "joint tenants" and not "tenants in common." Joint tenants have a right of survivorship- meaning title automatically passes to the surviving owner. Tenants in common do not, which means the deceased owner's share would have to be probated.
Remember, though, that all of these non-probate assets still count toward the $1 million trigger for estate taxes in Massachusetts. This means if the combined life insurance, real property, and bank and investment accounts total $1 million or more you will have to file an estate tax return, which will require opening a probate matter.
Learn more here about non-probate assets in Massachusetts.
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