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What is the difference between an heir and a beneficiary?

On Behalf of | Jul 22, 2020 | Estate Planning |

When people talk about inheritances, they often use the terms heirs and beneficiaries interchangeably. Yet, there are two different words for a reason. They do not mean the same thing.

What is a beneficiary?

If you make a will, you can decide to whom you would like to leave assets. They are known as beneficiaries because they will benefit from your will. You can name people regardless of whether they are family members or not. Alternatively, you can name charities, such as an animal rescue center or your local church.

What is an heir?

If you do not make a will, the law will consider that you “died intestate.” If this happens, a probate court will distribute your estate according to the state’s laws. They will distribute it amongst your heirs. These are usually your spouse, your children and your grandchildren.

Beneficiaries and heirs have different rights to contest a will

Sometimes people may wish to contest a will. People often get confused and think they have a right to do so when they do not. If a friend of the deceased or a charity wished to contest someone’s will, they could only do so if they were a named beneficiary in the will or a previous version of a will. An heir has the right to contest a will regardless of whether they are named in it.

By making a clear estate plan, you reduce the risk of confusion or legal challenges when you die. If you promised a friend or charity that you would leave them something but have never got around to putting it in your will, be sure to update the document to reflect this. Otherwise, they will have no right to reclaim what you intended to leave them.

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