Does a Will Supersede a Pay on Death Account in California Law as to Inheritance Rights?

By Teo Spengler

When people die, their assets must be collected, protected and distributed. In California, probate courts oversee the collection and safeguarding of probate assets and their ultimate distribution to beneficiaries or heirs. But not every asset the deceased owned will pass through probate. Some types of asset ownership provide for the property to directly transfer to another person upon the owner's death; these include payable-on-death bank accounts.

Probate Assets

A will is a legal document in which you direct the distribution of your assets to people or organizations you name in your will as beneficiaries. You can leave all of your holdings to one person or provide for specific gifts. All assets that pass by will in California are called probate assets. These can include real estate, personal property and bank accounts that are titled in your name at your death. Without a valid will, probate assets pass to family members under California's "intestate succession" laws.

Title Ownership

You can take title to property in such a way that it will not become a probate asset upon your death; thus, will not pass to beneficiaries under your will. One familiar example in California is community property. In California, each spouse is entitled by law to one-half of the community property, also known as marital property, earned by the spouses during the marriage. Because of this legal entitlement, you can only give away your 50 percent share of the community property to someone under your will, not the full 100 percent, and any attempt to give more will be held invalid. Similarly, if you own real estate in joint tenancy with the right of survivorship, that property will pass to the other owners upon your death regardless of the provisions of your will. The same is true of a bank account held in the names of two or more people.

Get help changing your legal name. Learn More


Other types of assets do not pass through probate because they involve a type of contract that names beneficiaries. Life insurance is such a contract. If you own life insurance, whomever is the named beneficiary will become the legal owner of the proceeds upon your death. The life insurance benefits will neither be probate assets nor pass under your will. Other benefits you can assign contractually before death include retirement benefits, death benefits and trusts. A payable-on-death bank account also falls into this category in California.

Payable-on-Death Account

A payable-on-death account is an inexpensive way of creating a trust and allows you to leave someone cash upon your death without resorting to probate. In California, you can convert almost any bank account into a payable-on-death account by filing forms with the bank designating a beneficiary to receive the funds when you die. This kind of account leaves you total control of the assets. You can change your beneficiary at any time and are free to leave as much or as little money as you like in the account. California courts regularly recognize the validity of payable-on-death accounts and allow them to avoid going through probate.

Will Conflict

Probate laws can appear complex and complicated to those untrained in the law. Individuals doing their own estate planning sometimes confuse probate and non-probate assets. If you attempt to leave an asset under your will that is not a probate asset, the attempt will be ineffective. For example, if you designate your wife as the beneficiary of a payable-on-death account and then attempt to devise the money in the same account to your children under your will, the language in the will will be declared invalid.

Get help changing your legal name. Learn More
Items That Are Not Part of a Probate Estate in Pennsylvania



Related articles

How to Avoid Probate With a Hand Written Will

Wills come in several different packages, but they all have the same purpose -- to identify who will inherit your property when you die. Handwritten wills, termed holographic wills, are valid in some states, but only if executed according to state law. While the type of will you choose will not help you avoid probate, methods exist to accomplish that end.

How to Prepare Your Own Will & Beneficiary Deed in Missouri

A will is a legal instrument that tells the probate court how to distribute your assets after you die. Because the probate process often involves considerable expense and delay, Missouri law authorizes real property owners to execute a beneficiary deed, which allows someone to transfer real property to his heirs after his death without having to submit the property to probate. Both wills and beneficiary deeds must be drafted in particular ways to be enforced. Nevertheless, if your estate is small, you can prepare both a will and a beneficiary deed without the assistance of an attorney.

How to Make Your Own Will Forms

A will is a document that tells a probate court how to distribute the assets of the person who wrote the will -- known as the testator -- after he dies. A will must be prepared in accordance with state law or it will not be enforced. The laws of the various states differ somewhat on what is required to create a valid will. If your will is declared invalid, your property will be distributed among your relatives in accordance with the state intestacy law.

Doing the right thing has never been easier.

Related articles

The Pros & Cons of Making a Will

A will is a written legal document that describes how you would like to distribute your property after you die. ...

Transfer on Death Vs. Beneficiary

It can take years to settle a decedent’s estate through probate, and the executor usually can’t transfer any of the ...

Probate Vs. Non-Probate Assets in Ohio

In Ohio, as in other states, certain assets are classified as probate or non-probate property. Non-probate assets are ...

Can an Executor of a Will Have Access to Joint Bank Accounts Not Under His Name?

If you intend to have money in your bank account go to a beneficiary you name in your will, you may need to check with ...

Browse by category
Ready to Begin? GET STARTED