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What's the difference between an heir and beneficiary?

Californian residents who are dealing with matters of the estate are likely hearing numerous terms they may not be familiar with. For example, what's the difference between an heir and a beneficiary? Some may think the terms are interchangeable, but they aren't.

Both heirs and beneficiaries are people who potentially receive property after a person passes away. FindLaw defines an heir as someone who is entitled to succeed possession of property. Heirs are usually people related to you. They can include your spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, or next-of-kin like distant cousins. Generally speaking, your property will go to them in that order if you don't specify via a will or trust. However, they don't technically have to receive anything.

On the flip side, a beneficiary is someone specifically named in a will or living trust that is meant to receive property. A beneficiary might not be an heir; it can be a coworker, distant relative, significant other who isn't married to you, or even a very close friend. You decide who your beneficiaries will be, and they will be the ones to receive your property once you pass on. If someone is not your heir and you want them to inherit something from you, you must specifically name them as a beneficiary.

Regardless of whether one is an heir or a beneficiary, the matters revolving around probate can still be complicated. This is why having a guiding hand in the form of legal expertise and advice can make a world of difference.

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