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Non-probate assets, wills and estate planning

For estate planning purposes, it is important to make sure that an Ohio person's wishes regarding how assets are distributed are reflected in plans for the non-probate assets as well as in the will. Non-probate assets are assets such as life insurance policies and retirement accounts that are passed down by beneficiary designations. Real property that is jointly owned and joint accounts with rights of survivorship are also examples of non-probate assets.

It is not uncommon for a person to change a will but forget to make changes to beneficiary designations or other assets. This could lead to a situation in which a person intends to disinherit a family member but fails to do so because if a will is in conflict with a beneficiary designation, the beneficiary designation overrides the will. If there is additional evidence besides the will that a person intended to disinherit someone, this could be grounds for challenging the beneficiary designation, but it still might be unsuccessful.

If no beneficiary is designated, assets will be distributed as described in the will. If there are no beneficiary designations and no will, state intestacy law will decide how assets are distributed.

The potential for these situations demonstrates why it may be important to discuss an estate plan with an attorney. For example, in addition to clarifying the difference between probate and non-probate assets, an attorney might offer additional suggestions on disinheriting a family member. Simply failing to mention the person in the will might not be enough. It would be better to specifically mention in the will that the person is being disinherited. Wills, beneficiary designations and other aspects of an estate plan should be reviewed regularly so that if there are family changes, such as marriages, births or divorces, the documents can be updated.

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