Whether you are putting together your own Will or standing to receive assets left to you by someone else, you may wonder what the actual difference is between a beneficiary vs an heir.
Some people may use the terms interchangeably, however, heirs and beneficiaries are not the same thing. Not all heirs are beneficiaries, and not all beneficiaries are heirs.
What Is an Heir?
An heir is someone who has a right of inheritance in a deceased person’s property. These “rights” are determined by state law.
However, just because someone is an heir, doesn’t necessarily mean this person will inherit assets when a family member passes away.
Does an heir automatically receive an inheritance?
No. Although heirs are defined by state law, everyone is entitled to prepare a Last Will and Testament to circumvent the law. If a Will has been prepared, the estate executor is bound by the terms of it and must distribute the inheritance to the persons named in it.
If the deceased person died Intestate (without a Last Will and Testament), the heirs are legally entitled to receive property, according to the laws of the state in which the property is probated.
For example, if Big John passes away with a validly-executed Will, and Little Johnny (the decedent’s youngest son) is intentionally cut out of the Will, little Johnny will not inherit anything. He may be technically an heir, but not a beneficiary of the estate. That would be the perfect example of a beneficiary vs an heir.
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What Is a Beneficiary?
A beneficiary, on the other hand, is someone who is named in the deceased’s Will or Trust as a recipient of assets when the decedent dies. The beneficiary may be an heir, a friend, family member. Or an organization, such as a church or a charity.
Executing a Last Will and Testament is the best way for you to ensure that your assets go to whom you want them to go to.
Do Beneficiaries Avoid Probate?
Don’t be fooled into thinking that having a Will avoids probate. A Will alone is not enough to keep your assets from going through the probate process. But, there are probate-avoidance tools that you can utilize, such as trusts and owning assets jointly or with a beneficiary designation.
Related Post: A Will Avoids Probate
Spousal Survivorship Rights In Connecticut
In the absence of a Will or in the absence of the spouse’s name in the Will, a spouse is entitled to life use of one-third of the estate, regardless of the length of the marriage.
For example, suppose your mother passes away, and according to her Will, all of her assets pass to you and your siblings. But she had remarried 10 years ago and never updated the will to include your stepfather.
He would have the legal right to take against the Will and request his share of the estate.
Contesting a Will
Any heir with a valid interest in an estate can contest a Last Will and Testament. Common reasons to contest include:
- If they believe the decedent lacked the capacity to understand what they were signing.
- If they think the signature on the Will was forged or,
- The decedent was pressured or forced into drafting and signing the Will.
if you are an heir of a decedent but not a beneficiary of the will, you can contest the validity of the Will. Then If you are successful, the court could deny the admission of the Will.
If the Will is not admitted and there are no previous Wills, then the laws of intestacy would apply and heirs would share the inheritance.
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Marketing & Technology Director at RWC, LLC, Attorneys & Counselors at Law
Ukraine born and Israel / Miami, FL raised. University of Miami graduate in the Marketing field.
Mom to a girl, a boy, and a Siberian Husky.