Most people consider life insurance to be part of their estate, so that begs the question "are the proceeds of a life insurance policy subject to probate?". Keeping property out of probate can mean your beneficiaries inherit their property faster. Read on to find out how probate views life insurance policies.
What is Probate?
Probate is a legal way to ensure that a deceased's estate is handled fairly. When probate laws came into existence, family members or associates of the deceased helped themselves to land, jewelry, artwork, gold, and more. Probate also ensures that anyone the deceased owes money to is paid. Nowadays, there are numerous ways to dispose of an estate that has nothing to do with the probate courts. For example, those planning their estates should consider the following:
- Transfer-on-death provisions
- Real estate deed designations
It should be mentioned that not all estates are subject to a long probate process – some states deal with small estates using an abbreviated version of probate that results in a quicker resolution.
Life Insurance and Skipping Probate
While a life insurance policy is technically part of the estate, the proceeds do not necessarily have to pass through probate. Life insurance policies that name beneficiaries (other than the deceased) can pass directly to them without going through probate. Anyone named as a beneficiary to a life insurance policy must deal with the insurance company.
Life Insurance and Final Arrangements
Many people now make arrangements for their final needs by contracting with the funeral home and paying the cost of the funeral and burial ahead of time. Traditionally, however, many people have a small life insurance policies (under $15,000 or so) that are meant to cover the cost of the final arrangements. The beneficiary named must then sign the policy over to the funeral home at the time the arrangements are made. If you go this route, make sure the beneficiary understands how the proceeds are to be used because there is no way to include this provision in your will or on the insurance policy.
Life Insurance and Probate Issues
Keeping your insurance beneficiaries up-to-date is vital if you want to keep your insurance policy out of probate. If the beneficiaries named in a life insurance policy have passed away, the proceeds of the policy must be probated with the remainder of the estate. If there is a will, the probate court will distribute the proceeds according to the will. State law dictates both how this type of property is distributed and how an estate is handled with someone dies without a will (intestate).
Contact a probate attorney for more help.