What happens to surprise assets not in estate planning documents?

On Behalf of | Apr 12, 2024 | Probate And Estate Administration |

When people do estate planning in Pennsylvania, they usually take care to outline their wishes in detail. However, they may forget about a certain asset or two.

What happens to assets not explicitly in estate planning documents?

Distribution of unnamed assets

A will or other estate planning documents might not explicitly name assets. They could undergo distribution according to Pennsylvania’s intestate succession laws or, if applicable, through the probate process. The distribution depends on various factors. They include the deceased individual’s marital status, whether they had children and the presence of other surviving relatives.

Surprise assets can include a wide range of possessions and investments. They could include forgotten bank accounts and investments, cryptocurrencies and business interests. Artwork, antiques and retirement benefits are some other possibilities.

Assets subject to intestate distribution

Pennsylvania has intestate succession laws. They address situations where a deceased individual did not leave a valid will or did not include certain assets in their estate plan. When someone dies without a will, the state determines asset distribution based on a predetermined hierarchy of relatives.

However, assets held jointly with rights of survivorship or those with designated beneficiaries, such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts, typically bypass probate. They go directly to the surviving joint owner or beneficiary.

Probate process

In cases where the deceased individual had a will but did not include specific assets, those assets may still need to go through the probate process. Probate is when the court supervises the distribution of a deceased person’s assets. The court reviews the deceased individual’s will, if one exists, and ensures that all debts and taxes are paid before distributing the remaining assets to the beneficiaries.

To avoid potential complications, comprehensive estate planning is helpful. This process involves carefully documenting all assets, including those that may not be immediately obvious or easily quantifiable.