Spouses are often shocked when they realize they aren’t entitled to the entire estate just because they are married. People mistakenly think that because they are married, they receive the entire estate when a spouse passes away.
Unfortunately, a spouse can find themselves having to share a deceased spouse’s estate in unanticipated ways.
First, it is important to understand the difference between probate and non-probate assets. Non-probate assets are assets that are jointly owned, have a beneficiary designation or are owned by an entity such as a trust. Bank accounts that are in joint names or that have a payable on death beneficiary listed are examples of non-probate assets.
Probate assets are those that are title solely in the decedent’s name and don’t have a beneficiary designation. Since these assets don’t have an obvious designated post-mortem owner, their ownership needs to be determined.