Q: I’m the executor of my mother’s estate. The language in her will sounds like her estate will not go into probate. Is that possible?

A: The primary purpose of a will is disposition of property. However not all property owned by a decedent is subject to disposition by a will.

Many of the things our benefactors own are not subject to their will or probate. For instance, most life insurance and annuity contracts name a non-estate beneficiary that is paid directly upon claim (this is called operation of law or contract). The Same holds true for many bank and brokerage accounts. Those accounts that have Payable on Death (POD) or Transfer on Death (TOD) provisions do not go through probate and pass directly to the beneficiary.


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Joint accounts will usually pass to the surviving owner sans probate. Assets titled in Revocable Inter-Vivos or Living Trust agreements are administered and disposed of by successor trustees named in the document. Real property, too, may be titled so as to pass to an heir while avoiding probate. However, if the decedent's name is the only name on the title at time of death, only the probate court can change the title according to the specifications of the will.

In short, anything that does not go directly to a beneficiary will be subject to the deceased's will. All wills, as well as assets that do not pass by operation of law or contract, are subject to probate. Once the will has been probated and assets have been distributed, you can do whatever you want with them, including designate in your own will who will receive your assets.