Hi, my name is Bill Miller. I’m an estate planning and elder law attorney here in Alabama. One of the most frequently-asked questions I get is what is the difference between probate and non-probate assets in Alabama? Probate assets are those assets that someone owns solely in their name when they pass away. Non-probate assets are assets that someone may have had an interest in before they died, but because they had a beneficiary designation or a co-owner, then those assets passed outside the probate estate and directly to the other person. So as an example, if you are married and you own real estate, you and your spouse probably own that real estate with what they call joint with right of survivorship. You can check your deed, but it probably says that.
What that means is when one spouse passes away, the other spouse owns the property outright and there is no need to go through the probate process; that is a non-probate asset. On the other hand, you may be a widow or divorced or single for whatever reason and own real estate. If no one else’s name is on that deed and you own it all by yourself when you pass away, that is a probate asset. It has to go through probate in order to get transferred to your heirs. Another example is bank accounts. If you own your bank account solely in your name and you pass away, then that is a probate asset and it has to go through probate, which is governed by the terms of your will.
On the other hand, if your son or daughter is a co-owner of that account or beneficiary of that account, then it is a non-probate asset because it does not have to go through the probate process in Alabama . So I hope that answers the question about probate versus non-probate assets. It is a very important distinction, because it has to do with what assets are governed by the terms of your will. Your will has nothing to do with your non-probate assets; it only governs your probate assets. If you like more information, visit our website at www.annistonestateplanning.com, and feel free to register for one of our free estate-planning workshops where we discuss this and other issues in much more detail. You can also call us at 256 251-2137 to learn more.