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  • A court-supervised process beginning after your death to determine the validity of your will and monitor the execution of its provisions. Assets that would go through probate typically are those that you own individually (or as a tenant in common) and for which there are no beneficiary designations. Assets owned as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, with beneficiary designations, or titled in the name of an existing trust are designed to pass to others directly outside of your will and the probate process.
    While jointly owned assets more typically are held with rights of survivorship, sometimes they are jointly held instead as tenants in common. In this situation, your share of the assets passes to your heirs according to your will or the laws of your legal state of residence and not automatically to the surviving joint owner(s) of the assets.

    To increase the ease and speed of the transfer of certain assets, it may be helpful to have them designated as jointly owned with rights of survivorship (WROS). For jointly held accounts, the financial institution holding the account may allow each owner to take certain actions, such as making deposits or withdrawals, without the signature of the other, while making them act jointly for other actions, like changing the beneficiary listed for the account. When you die, the asset or the account automatically becomes the property of the surviving owner(s) and does not go through the probate proceedings of your estate. Note, however, that assets owned in this way do not pass according to your will or trust agreement.

    By presenting the necessary documents (such as a death certificate) to the institution holding the asset, the surviving owner generally can have the title on the asset changed to his or her own name. For an asset like a house or a car, you would present the documents to the governmental agency that records the title of the asset in question.

    While jointly owned assets typically are held as joint tenants with rights of survivorship, jointly owned assets may be held instead as tenants in common. When this is the case, your share of the assets passes to your heirs according to your will or the laws of your state of legal residence if you do not have a will. If you have any questions about how your jointly owned assets are currently held, check with an estate planning advisor or the institution holding the assets.