The way property is titled determines the method the estate representative uses to decide who the beneficiaries are.

Read the Beneficiary section.  This section explains the different ways property can be titled and how the method of title determines  whether  property is considered a probate asset, a trust asset, or an asset with automatic inheritance rights.

Q. Who inherits property with a title?

A. It depends on whether the method of title means the property is considered a probate asset, a trust assets, or a property with automatic inheritance rights.

Probate assets.  Instructions in the will generally determines the beneficiary of probate assets.   If the decedent died without a will, state intestate succession rules determine the beneficiary.  Probate assets will be managed by the executor named in the will, or by a personal representative appointed by the court if the decedent did not have a will.

Trust assets. Instructions in the trust determine the beneficiaries of assets owned by a trust.  Trust assets will be managed by the successor trustee named in the trust.  The succssor trustee will take the necessary steps to transfer title to the beneficaries.

Assets with automatic inheritance rights. The law automatically determines the beneficiaries and overrides any instructions contained in a will or a trust.   Assets with automatic inheritance rights can be managed by the beneficiaries who automatically inherit the property.


Q.  What happens to property without a title?

A.  It depends on whether it is personal property or your digital assets.

Decedent’s personal effects such as household items, art, jewelry and other collectibles. In many states if the decedent was married, the spouse has the right to inherit all of the decedent’s personal effects.  If the decedent was not married, then his or her children are usually entitled to divide all of the personal effects equally among themselves.

Hopefully, the decedent created a property schedule listing his personal property and naming a beneficiary for each item.   If not, the estate representative will need to find some equitable manner in determining who inherits untitled personal effects.

Digital Assets. Each Internet service provider (ISP)has set their own policy on what types of access they provide to executors and family members when someone dies.   Unless the decedent left a user ID and a password, the ISP will determine what rights the beneficiaries have.

Fact:  Surviving spouse rights

In most cases, one spouse cannot completely disinherit the other spouse.

In community property states, the surviving spouse automatically owns half of the assets, unless he or she has signed an agreement agreeing to something else.

In other state, a surviving spouse has the right to claim some part of the deceased spouse’s estate, no matter what the will states.  The amount due the surviving spouse may be determined by the number of years of marriage.   If the will does not provide for a surviving spouse, the surviving spouse must file legal documents asserting their right to a share of the decedent’s estate.