Question: We had a person come in asking for the funds in her deceased husband’s single-owner account. She is presenting an unprobated will that lists her as the person to receive his assets, but the account has a POD that is not the wife. Is the wife entitled to the money?
Answer: You don’t know. A will is not valid until it is probated. Only at that time can a determination be made as to what estate assets belong to which persons.
Furthermore, POD designations often trump designations made in a will. The POD is likely entitled to that money, although the wife may be entitled to some of half of those funds in a community property state. In a separate property state, the wife may be entitled to none of those funds.
The best strategy here is to await estate paperwork from an executor and hold the funds until you have a better idea of the status of the estate and receive instruction from the executor. If there’s any question after that, we recommend you ask your counsel on how to proceed.
If for some reason no one ever opens probate, you would remit those funds to your state’s unclaimed property office after the requisite time has passed for turnover. If a person needs to make a claim after that, they will need to provide proof of ownership to that state entity.
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