How Do Probate Assets Differ From Nonprobate Assets?

Nonprobate assets are those assets that transfer, after a person dies, by contract or agreements other than a person’s Will.  They include, among other possibilities, joint tenancy with right of survivorship accounts or interests, payable on death accounts, transfer on death securities or accounts, deeds whose possession has been delayed until death of the grantor, community property agreements, and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and other pension rights for which a beneficiary is named.  RCW 11.02.005(15).

The following are not nonprobate assets:  life insurance proceeds, employee benefit plan death payments, intestate heir’s gifts from a decedent’s estate, and proceeds of an irrevocable trust.  RCW 11.02.005(15).

Nonprobate assets may be charged, under appropriate circumstances, with a share of the administrative costs and creditor claims and taxes of the decedent’s estate.  RCW 11.18.200.

Clients often have questions about JTWROS checking accounts, where one of the siblings or a friend has been made a signer on the account to help an aging person pay her bills.  Under Washington law, at the time of the death of the aging joint tenant, the surviving joint tenant takes possession of all the funds remaining in the JTWROS checking account, unless there is clear and convincing evidence that such an outcome was not the intention of the deceased joint tenant.  RCW 30.22.100(3).

Probate assets are those assets that cannot be transferred unless a living person has authority to sign on behalf of a decedent.  They usually include such items as financial accounts in the name of the decedent alone and real property.  Such probate assets are transferred by a personal representative after she has been appointed by a superior court.  RCW 11.48.010.

With respect to ownership of nonprobate assets, you may want to learn about Washington's super-Will statute, RCW 11.11.