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What is an Estate – Probate, Non-Probate and Different Types of Estates

What is an estate

What is an estate depends on what you are referring to. And to make things more confusing, there are different types of estates. Typically, an estate means property that someone left to their heirs after their death.

An estate can be referring to a number of things:

  • An estate is usually referring to real and personal property someone left or is planning to leave to their heirs after their death
  • An estate can also be referring to someone’s real property and its surrounding land (such as “country estate”), but that is not the definition we are focusing on here
  • An estate can be referring to someone’s body of work
  • A probate estate is assets that are subject to the supervision of the probate court
  • A non-probate estate are assets that are usually not subject to the supervision of the probate court
  • A trust estate is property that has been transferred to a trust and is held by that trust

What is a Probate Estate

What is a probate estate? An estate that includes assets owned by the decedent individually at the time of death, to which the owner did not designate a beneficiary. In New York, a probate estate may include the following types of personal and/or real property:

  • The primary residence, second home, vacation property and/or investment real estate (if no one else is on the title)
  • Automobiles, other motor vehicles and vessels
  • Cash in separate bank accounts or safe deposit box contents, stocks, bonds and other investment holdings
  • Collectibles such as artwork, books or coins
  • Jewelry
  • Household furnishings and clothing and other personal items
  • Royalties
  • Sale of business assets and interests
  • Wrongful death proceeds
  • Medical malpractice proceeds

Non-Probate Estate

What is a non-probate estate? An estate that includes assets that are either owned jointly with someone else or have a designated beneficiary. The following are considered non-probate assets that don’t need to be included in the probate estate and don’t require probate court approval for being collected and disbursed.

  • Pension accounts
  • 401(k), profit sharing
  • life insurance, annuities
  • joint bank accounts and community
  • property assets such as your home that you own jointly with your spouse
  • assets that you own jointly with other family members, friends, associates or business partners
  • and assets placed in a living trust

Trust Estate

What is a trust estate? Any property placed in a trust, whether it be a lifetime trust (also known as living trust or by its latin name, inter vivos trust) or a testamentary trust.

There are Different Types of Estates

There are different types of estates and the type is often not specified – you would have to figure out which one it is from the context, and the context is not always clear. An estate can also be referring to someone’s house and its surroundings, such as in the phrase “their country estate.” Or, it can refer to someone’s body of work, but that’s typically a part of the probate estate anyway – an artist’s probate estate or a trust can hold the rights to their work, so when an artist is deceased, we say that their work is handled by their estate. Similarly, an estate sale can be had to sell a property of a probate estate, non-probate estate or a trust, but we still call it an estate sale without specifying what kind of estate is conducting the sale. Typically, the word estate means someone’s property at death or planning for property at death (we call this “estate planning”).

As you can see, the answer to what is an estate depends on a number of factors and can have more than once answer depending on the context. If you have an estate issue in New York, consider the services of attorney Albert Goodwin, Esq. He can be reached at 212-233-1233 or 718-509-9774.