Estate planning in New York is easier when you know the difference between an heir and a beneficiary. Even if you have no heirs, you’ll likely choose one or more beneficiaries. One person can fill both roles, as in an heir can also serve as a beneficiary and vice versa.
Estate litigation can arise if an heir has concerns or questions about their inheritance. Legally, an heir is entitled to all or some of your estate if you die without a will or your will is invalid. The lack of a will means the local probate court will decide what the heir receives.
You can’t decide who is or isn’t an heir. Generally, an heir is your child, a direct descendant or another close relative. A spouse isn’t an heir because there’s no blood relation. However, you can make a spouse a beneficiary.
A beneficiary is a person who inherits something from you after your death. Making an heir a beneficiary is possible, but it’s not the same thing. During estate planning, you’ll likely have several situations that require you to choose a beneficiary.
You choose the beneficiary to collect property or assets after your death. A friend, family member, or organization can be a beneficiary. You’ll likely choose a beneficiary in your will, on your life insurance, on a savings or bank account or some other type of arrangement.
The main difference between a beneficiary and an heir is that an heir is usually a blood relative. However, there are exceptions to this rule, most notably in the instance of an adopted child. If you legally adopted a child, that child is considered an heir. However, if there’s no legal adoption, the court will likely not recognize the child as an heir.