Monday, December 28, 2020

What’s the difference between an heir and a beneficiary and why does it matter?

An heir is the person or persons who are related by blood that would inherit from a decedent ( a person who has died) if the decedent had no will.

A beneficiary is a person (or charity or institution) named in a will to whom the decedent wishes to leave his or her assets at the time of death.

Who are your heirs?  Take your wrist and place two fingers on your other hand and place them on your wrist.  Do you feel a pulse?  If so, you don’t yet have any heirs.  That is kind of a snarky way to explain that we cannot know who your heirs are until you are dead. In order to be considered an heir, the person must still be alive at the time of your death. 

Under Georgia law, someone who dies without a will is considered to have died “intestate” and the assets he or she owned individually and without beneficiary designations will go to the heirs in the order specified under the laws of the State of Georgia. The Georgia statute provides that if the decedent had a spouse but no children, his or her assets would go to the spouse.  However, if the decedent had a spouse and children – even children from another relationship and regardless of the age of the children- the assets will be divided among the spouse and children, with the spouse getting no less than one-third of the assets.  If one of the children predeceased the decedent, his or her share would then go to his or her children who are the grandchildren of the decedent. 

If the decedent is not married and has no children, his or her assets would go to his or her parents.  If the parents are deceased, then to his or her siblings.  If the siblings are deceased but had children, the assets would to the nieces and nephews of the decedent.  If the decedent had no living siblings or nieces or nephews, then to the cousins of the decedent. 

Estate planning attorneys are seeing more clients who have no spouse, children, living parents, or siblings.  It is  important for everyone to have a will or a trust, but it is especially important for those who have no close relatives.  Finding first, second or even third cousins can be difficult for the personal representative who is responsible to notify heirs at the time of the decedent’s death. It can be especially difficult when the decedent had no knowledge of or relationship with the cousins, or when those cousins are scattered in different countries.

As we are closing out this difficult year of 2020, think about who might inherit from you if you don’t make your wishes known in a will or trust.  If you want to have a say in who gets your assets, give our office a call and we can help you set up your estate plan.

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