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What is the difference between an heir and a beneficiary?

Posted by Joel Beck | Nov 01, 2022 | 0 Comments

When preparing your estate plan or going through the probate process, you may hear the term “heir” or “beneficiary” with regard to inheritance. In TV shows and movies, they like to depict the heirs of the decedent inheriting from them automatically upon their death. In reality, however, this is not always the case.

To put it simply, an heir is someone that is in direct relation to the decedent. This could be the decedent's spouse, kids, grandchildren, parents, siblings, and so on. If someone were to die without a will, then their heirs will inherit from them in accordance with the laws in the state they died in. When someone does an estate plan, however, they name people in the will, known as the beneficiaries, to inherit assets from them. Beneficiaries don't necessarily need to be related to the decedent, like an heir would be, but a beneficiary certainly can be a related person. In other words, a beneficiary may or may not be an heir. 

So, what does this mean for your loved ones?

If you were to die intestate (without a will) then the state will decide where your assets will go and who will receive them. Typically, the recipients of your assets are your heirs, even if you did not want them to receive anything from you. There is also no guarantee that the people you do want to inherit from you will do so, or that they will inherit in the manner and proportion that you may desire. The only way you can make certain that your assets will go to the people you want to receive them is by preparing an estate plan. When you do that, you can decide who will inherit from you, what they will inherit, and who will be responsible for probating your estate and following your wishes. Doing an estate plan also ensures that there is a plan in place for how you would like to be cared for through a POA and a Healthcare directive if you were to become incapacitated.

At Peach State Wills & Trusts, we offer help with estate planning and uncontested probate matters. If you would like to learn more information about estate planning in Georgia, download our FREE guide here and if we can be of any help to you give us a call at (678) 344-5342 or contact us here.

About the Author

Joel Beck

Joel Beck founded The Beck Law Firm, LLC in 2007. His firm focused on business law and estate planning needs of clients, two areas that he was drawn to based upon personal and business experiences in his life, including a ten-year career at NASD (now known as FINRA).


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