Death is the great equalizer when it comes to the handling of one’s estate. Whether you are rich and famous or an ordinary Joe, the same rules apply in determining what happens to our worldly possessions when we die.
The law applied to determine what happens to property upon death is determined by the deceased person’s state of residence at the time of death. If someone simply goes out of state to be cared for by a relative during his or her last months of existence, the law of the state of permanent residence still apply, not the laws of the temporary home.
Once a deceased persons assets are identiﬁed, the most important determination to be made is how the assets are held. This requires examination of the name(s) on, or title of, those assets. Following is a brief explanation of what happens to assets depending on the way they are held.
If an asset is jointly owned with another person or persons, the property will automatically go to the other joint owner(s). If an asset is in an account with a beneﬁ ciary designation, the asset will automatically go to the designated beneﬁciary.
Where an asset is titled in the name of the trustee of a trust (eg “Joe Blow, as Trustee of the Joe Blow Trust”, the designated Successor Trustee will in effect “step into Joe Blow’s shoes” to manage and distribute the asset according to the terms of Joe Blow’s living trust.
If there are assets not jointly owned, in an account designated for a beneﬁciary or in a trust, those assets are subject to the jurisdiction of the Superior Court of the county where the decedent maintained his or her permanent residence. The assets have to go through a legal process called probate in order for those assets to be distributed to the deceased person’s heirs whether or not the deceased person has a will. If the deceased person had a stand alone will, the assets will be distributed to the beneﬁciaries as stated in the will. If the deceased person had a “pour-over will” (one that transfers probated assets to his or her living trust for distribution), the asset will be distributed according to the terms of the trust. If there was no will at all, the assets will be distributed under the default laws of intestate succession to the surviving spouse and/or next of kin.
© 2018 by Marlene S. Cooper. All rights reserved.
(Marlene S. Cooper, a graduate of UCLA, has been an attorney for over 35 years. Her practice
is focused entirely on estate planning, estate administration and probate. You may obtain further information at www. marlenecooperlaw.com, by e-mail at Marlene@ MarleneCooperLaw.com, by phone at (626) 791-7530 or toll free at (866) 702-7600. The information in this article is of a general nature and not intended as legal advice. Seek the advice of an attorney before acting or relying upon any information in this article).