How Are Assets Transferred After Death?

Gary FalesUncategorizedLeave a Comment

After a person dies, what happens to their assets? If you have recently lost a loved one, you may be wondering how their assets will be transferred to family members and other heirs. Understanding this process can help during a time of grief, as it can otherwise be overwhelming and needlessly stressful. Know that if desired, a probate or estate planning lawyer Scottsdale AZ relies on can be of assistance. Many choose to have a legal representative by their side for this reason. To provide you with a general understanding of the process, here is how assets are transferred after death.


If a person has a will, it gives a specific person the responsibility of handling their affairs after their death. This person is called the executor of the will. As executor they have the responsibility to distribute the deceased’s assets to those named in the will. The will may also name a person to serve as the guardian to the deceased’s minor children, if there are any. If there is no will in place, a judge will appoint someone as the executor.


The probate process takes place in the county in which the individual lived at the time of their death. Probate is a public process and the statement that is filed with the court that indicates all of the deceased’s assets becomes part of the public record. The executor must file for probate so that the assets can be appraised and distributed. If the estate does not have any assets that must be probated, the probate process can be skipped.

Real Estate Property

 Very often, the home is the most valuable asset of the deceased person.

  • Real estate property can be transferred to the heir but they will also be responsible for any money still owed on the mortgage.
  • If the property is to be inherited by more than one individual, it can either be jointly owned by them or else sold and the proceeds distributed amongst those who inherited that property.

Checking and Savings Accounts

If the deceased did not designate a payable on death beneficiary to their checking and savings accounts, then monies from those accounts will have to go through the probate process. Afterward, they can be distributed to the heirs provided the funds are not needed to pay toward any debts of the estate.

Investment or Retirement Account

 When a person has an investment or retirement account, they usually designate a person as their beneficiary through a transfer on death designation. Usually, the brokerage company will require the beneficiary to submit a certificate of death for the deceased and complete a form as to how they want the assets disbursed to them. If a transfer on death beneficiary was not named, then the monies will have to go through probate.


If the individual names someone to inherit their vehicle upon their death, then that person receives the title unless the vehicle has not been paid off yet. However, if there is a lien on the vehicle, the heir will have to get approval from the financing company to take over the payments. If they will not accept payments, they may have the legal right to repossess the vehicle. Laws vary by state, so check with an attorney in your area to discover your legal options.

Losing a loved one is never easy. If you have questions about how their assets are transferred after death, you may want to hire a skilled estate planning attorney to help you.

Thanks to our friends and contributors from Hildebrand Law for their insight into estate planning law practice.