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Differences Between Beneficiaries And Heirs


The terms ‘heir’ and ‘beneficiary’ are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between the two. It is important to understand these differences when creating your estate plan. If you do not, it could cause unnecessary complications and confusion among your family members and other loved ones in the future. Below, our St. Petersburg estate planning lawyer outlines the differences between the two terms.

Who are Heirs? 

A person’s heirs are their blood relatives and surviving spouse. Based on the intestate succession laws of the state, heirs have a right to your assets, including property and money, after you pass away. The term ‘heir’ is most often used when a person has passed away without a Will or estate plan. In these cases, the administrator of the estate sometimes has to conduct some research to determine who the heirs of the deceased are, so they understand who has a legal right to inherit the property of the deceased.

Who are Beneficiaries? 

Beneficiaries, on the other hand, may inherit your property but they may or may not be related to you by blood or marriage. Beneficiaries are people who you have specifically outlined in your Will or other parts of your estate plan. You can choose to name anyone as a beneficiary including relatives, close friends, and even charitable organizations. The people who you name as beneficiaries may also be your natural heirs, but that is not always the case.

Do Heirs or Beneficiaries have a Greater Right to an Estate? 

Many people wonder whether beneficiaries or heirs have a greater right to an estate. Generally, your formally expressed wishes take precedence over anything else, but there are some heirs that you are required to include unless they have waived their rights, such as your spouse. For example, you may name a charitable organization as a beneficiary and leave heirs, such as your parents if you are unmarried with no children, out of your estate plan. The charitable organization would receive any property you had left to them. Again, heirs typically only receive property if you have not created a Will or estate plan, or if you have named them as a beneficiary, but it is important to discuss with a lawyer because some heirs are required to be included unless waived.

The Exception for Spousal Rights 

Certain circumstances give your spouse a right to a portion of your estate, even if you have not included them in your Will or estate plan. Legally, your spouse may have the right to as much as 30 percent of your estate, even if you have disinherited them. This is known as the spouse’s ‘elective share.’ If you have a surviving spouse when you pass away, they also likely have the right to live in the marital home, even if you were estranged at the time of your death. There are many rights available to your surviving spouse at your death, regardless of what your Will says, so it is important to be aware of these rights and how they affect your Will.

If you pass away without a Will, your spouse will receive your entire estate if you did not have children. If you do have children outside of the marriage, your spouse has the right to half of your estate.

Our Estate Planning Lawyer in St. Petersburg Can Help You Plan 

If you have not yet created a plan, or you have questions, our St. Petersburg estate planning lawyer can help. At Legacy Protection Lawyers, our experienced attorneys can assist with creating a plan that reflects your wishes, and answer any questions you may have. Call us now at 727-471-5868 or contact us online to schedule a consultation and to get the advice you need.



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