Probate assets are any assets connected with an estate that are not specifically bequeathed to a beneficiary. In order for ownership of the assets to be transferred to the next of kin, those assets must first go through a process of probate, conducted under the auspices of a probate court that has jurisdiction in the area where the deceased maintained a permanent residence. Several types of inheritance assets may be subject to probate action, depending on the laws that apply in the location in which the will is finally probated.
One of the more common examples of probate assets are insurance policies in which the estate of the deceased is named as the beneficiary of those policies. Before the insurance companies will honor the terms of the policy, the court must recognize the administrator of the estate as authorized to receive those funds and add them to the estate in compliance with any instructions left by the deceased. The same is true for any bank or brokerage accounts where the estate is named as the beneficiary. In jurisdictions where community property laws apply, half of the value of those assets may be ordered by the court to be forwarded to a surviving spouse or legally recognized partner.
In situations where the deceased held joint ownership of a given asset, that portion of ownership must also be probated before it is transferred to the estate or another party as determined by the court. With probate assets of this type, any provisions within the ownership agreement that pertain to survival of ownership when one of the owners passes away is usually considered binding, and the court will order that the asset be processed in accordance with those provisions.
There are several other types of probate assets that require the attention of a probate court. Personal property of the deceased that is not specifically willed to a beneficiary, as well as the balance in any type of retirement fund such as an Individual Retirement Account or a Keogh Plan where the estate is named as the recipient, will require some type of probate action. This is in contrast to assets that are considered non-probate assets, such as a bank account that is held in trust for a minor child, or investments that are bequeathed to a specific charity. Since probate laws vary somewhat from one jurisdiction to another, it is important to consult with legal professionals regarding the exact circumstances that may require a probate court to act before any assets belonging to a recently deceased individual may be awarded to family members or other persons of interest.