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Probate vs. Non-Probate Assets: What You Need to Know

By: Joshua Rosenberg, Esq. August 14, 2023 no comments

Probate vs. Non-Probate Assets: What You Need to Know

When it comes to probate in Florida, understanding the distinction between probate and non-probate assets is crucial. While probate is the legal process through which a deceased person’s assets are distributed, not all assets go through probate, and it is essential to know which assets fall into each category.

Probate Assets

Probate assets refer to property or assets that are solely owned by the deceased person and do not have a designated beneficiary. These assets can consist of real estate, vehicles, personal belongings, bank accounts, retirement accounts, investments, and even life insurance policies if the assets are held in their individual name and did not have a beneficiary listed.

If the deceased person dies owning these types of assets in their name alone and with no beneficiary or “pay-on-death” provision, you will need to open a probate to distribute the assets to the people entitled to receive them.

Non-Probate Assets

Non-probate assets, on the other hand, are assets that pass directly to beneficiaries outside of the probate process. These assets have specific beneficiary designations or are held in certain types of ownership arrangements. Common examples of non-probate assets include:

Jointly Owned Property:

Property held jointly with rights of survivorship automatically passes to the surviving owner(s) upon the death of one owner. This includes joint bank accounts, real estate held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, and jointly owned investment accounts.

Retirement Accounts:

Assets held in retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, IRAs, and pension plans, typically have named beneficiaries. Upon the owner’s death, these assets transfer directly to the designated beneficiaries.

Life Insurance Policies:

Life insurance policies have named beneficiaries who receive the death benefit directly. This benefit is not subject to probate and passes outside of the estate so long as a beneficiary is listed.

Payable-on-Death (POD) Accounts:

Bank accounts, certificates of deposit (CDs), and brokerage accounts with designated pay-on-death beneficiaries are considered non-probate assets.

Trust Assets:

Assets held in a revocable living trust or an irrevocable trust do not go through probate. Instead, they are managed and distributed according to the trust terms, allowing for privacy, potential tax benefits, and avoiding probate.


Differentiating between probate and non-probate assets is vital because it impacts the distribution of a deceased person’s assets and the timeline for their transfer. The types of assets in each category often overlap as the determining factor of whether an asset must go through probate is how the asset is owned or if a beneficiary is listed. Probate assets are subject to court supervision, and the process can be time-consuming, costly, and may create potential disputes among beneficiaries.

Non-probate assets, on the other hand, pass directly to the designated beneficiaries without the need for court involvement. This can provide a more efficient and private transfer of assets and allow beneficiaries to receive their inheritance more quickly.

Understanding which assets fall into each category helps individuals make informed decisions about beneficiary designations, property ownership arrangements, and the use of trusts to ensure the smooth transfer of assets to their intended recipients.

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