Probate vs. Non-Probate Assets: Understanding the Difference in Queens

When planning your future in Queens, understanding how your assets will be distributed after you’re gone is crucial. This involves navigating the sometimes-confusing world of probate and non-probate assets.

What Is Probate?

Probate is a legal process overseen by the court system that ensures your assets are distributed according to your will or, if no will exists, according to New York State law (intestacy).  During probate, the court validates your will, identifies and values your assets, settles any debts, and distributes remaining assets to your beneficiaries.

What Are Probate Assets?

Probate assets are any assets owned solely by you at the time of your death.  This includes:

  • Real estate in your sole name
  • Bank accounts without a named beneficiary
  • Investment accounts without a transfer-on-death (TOD) designation
  • Personal property not jointly owned

What Are Non-Probate Assets?

Non-probate assets bypass the probate court, saving time and money for your beneficiaries.  These assets typically have a designated beneficiary or ownership structure that automatically transfers ownership upon your passing. Examples include:

  • Assets held jointly with right of survivorship (automatically pass to the surviving owner)
  • Life insurance policies with a named beneficiary
  • Retirement accounts (IRAs, 401(k)s) with a named beneficiary
  • Assets held in a revocable living trust

Planning for a Smooth Transition

While non-probate assets offer advantages, a well-drafted will is still essential.  It allows you to designate beneficiaries for probate assets, name a guardian for minor children, and appoint an executor to manage your estate.

An experienced Queens estate planning attorney can help you understand the intricacies of probate and non-probate assets and guide you in creating a plan that minimizes probate costs and ensures your wishes are met. They can advise you on:

  • Whether you need a will or a trust (or both)
  • How to properly designate beneficiaries on your non-probate assets
  • Strategies to minimize estate taxes


Understanding the distinction between probate and non-probate assets is essential for effective estate planning in Queens. By strategically structuring asset ownership and beneficiary designations, individuals can minimize the time, cost, and complexity of probate proceedings, ensuring a smoother transfer of assets to loved ones after their passing. Consulting with an experienced estate planning attorney can provide valuable guidance in navigating these matters and creating a comprehensive estate plan tailored to individual needs and goals.