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Will probate affect my retirement accounts and other assets?

If you are wondering which of your assets will be subject to probate, you are probably thinking the time has come to draw up your will, and that is a good idea.

If you should die intestate, meaning without a will, the court will take over the distribution of your assets. However, the court might not have a hand in disbursing the funds from a retirement account, such as your IRA.

Assets subject to probate

Generally speaking, the assets you own that are under your name alone will go through probate. Included will be cash or cash accounts that are not earmarked by a “transfer on death” or TOD designation; personal property, such as valuable artwork or collections; and real estate that is in your name only or held as tenants in common. Assets that allow for the naming of beneficiaries will also go through probate if you have passed away without naming anyone.

Other assets

There are many assets that are not usually subject to probate. These include insurance policy proceeds; assets with joint owner-right of survivor designations; revocable living trusts and accounts where you have named the beneficiaries, such as your IRA or 401(k); and any investment accounts that have the TOD designation. Beneficiaries can usually assume ownership of such assets sooner than if they were to go through probate.

The nuts and bolts

Probate can be a complex and lengthy matter, depending on the size of your estate. However, the state of Arizona makes it a faster, smoother process if your personal property amounts to less than $75,000, or the value of your real estate is less than $100,000. You may have many questions in addition to wondering about the disposition of your retirement account. However, your estate planning attorney can explain all the details about probate: what assets will have to pass through the system, how long it takes and what your heirs can expect from the court as it winds up your affairs.


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