The Will controls the distribution of probate assets only. Similarly, the personal representative (executor or administrator) of an estate is responsible only for probate assets.
Assets with beneficiary designations are non-probate assets. Even if the Will names beneficiaries of a life insurance policy or a retirement plan, the provisions in the Will do not override the beneficiary designations made by a decedent. Other non-probate assets include property that is held in joint tenancy or as tenants by the entirety, bank accounts with payable on death (POD) or transfer on death (TOD) designations, and property held in a trust. Beneficiary designations and the titling of jointly-held assets should be checked and updated regularly.
If the decedent or his/her estate is named as beneficiary of a non-probate asset such as a retirement plan or a life insurance policy, the property is a probate asset.
Beneficiary designations for retirement benefits and life insurance
A designated beneficiary is a person or legal entity that is entitled to receive the proceeds from a retirement account, life insurance policy, or transfer on death accounts outside of probate. Care should be taken to ensure that beneficiary designations are up to date. Beneficiary designations are not governed by the provisions in a Will.
The Uniform Gifts to Minors Act (UGMA) and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act (UTMA) are types of custodial accounts that are set up by an adult on behalf of a minor. All the money and assets (e.g. mutual funds, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, etc.) in these types of accounts are turned over to the beneficiary’s control at the age of 18 to 21 (depending on the state in which the account was opened) and the beneficiary can use the funds in any way s/he chooses.