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Inventory of Assets in a Probate Case

In order to administer someones estate, the personal representative must first understand the nature and amount of assets and property that needs to be distributed. Taking inventory of assets is one of the first and most important–yet often complicated–tasks in the probate process. While some assets or property may be specifically mentioned in a will, most may not be. The following are some examples of assets that may be inventoried during probate.

Nonprobate Assets

As the name suggests, these are assets that will be distributed outside of the probate process. Such assets include the following:

  • Assets and property held in a living trust
  • Property owned in joint tenancy
  • Assets designated in community property agreements
  • Joint financial accounts with survivorship rights
  • Payable on death (POD) accounts
  • Retirement accounts with beneficiaries
  • Life insurance policies 
  • Transferable on death (TOD) investment and securities
  • Benefit plans from employers
  • Vehicles, with the proper paperwork 1
  • Tax refunds from the IRS
  • Federal savings bonds

While it can be difficult to locate and inventory all investments, benefits, financial accounts , insurance policies, bonds, and more, this inventory does not have to be done within the confines of the probate process.

Probate Assets

Simply put, anything left over after nonprobate assets are separated will likely be handled in probate. This can include:

  • Personal property that is not community property
  • Community property that is not subject to an agreement
  • Individual accounts with no beneficiary or POD designation
  • Real estate that has no joint owners or TOD designations

Any of the above assets, as well as any other residual property, will be considered probate property. In many situations, a person may believe that their trust or other estate planning strategies will help eliminate probate assets entirely. However, it is common for someone to overlook transferring certain assets and they may unintentionally leave assets that will be handled in probate.

Assets that are Often Missed

While some assets are relatively easy to locate and identify, other types of assets are commonly overlooked in the inventory process. These assets may be in limbo or simply may not be considered by the personal representative. Some examples of often overlooked assets include:

  • Rents for property owned 
  • Paychecks not yet completed prior to the death
  • Refunds or interest 
  • Security deposits for property rented
  • Cash payout for insurance policies owned by the deceased
  • Community property interests in a spouse’s retirement accounts or benefits.

In short, inventory of assets for probate can be a complex, though critical part of the process.