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A will is not the only way to divide assets. You may also obtain those assets if you’re a beneficiary listed on a financial account. For instance, perhaps your parents took out a life insurance policy and listed you as the beneficiary, meaning that the policy pays out to you when they pass away.

Typically, this happens outside of the will. The money never really enters the estate. It just goes directly to you, and it doesn’t need to be listed in the will.

So, could it come as a surprise, or does someone have to tell you when they decide to make you a beneficiary?

They typically do not have any legal obligation to tell you that you have been chosen as the beneficiary of an account. It can be a surprise, and you may be the only one out of all possible heirs that even knows the policy exists. In some cases, parents do not talk about this process at all with their heirs.

Some experts advise against this lack of communication, saying that things will go more smoothly when all heirs know what to expect. However, people have a right to decide how they want to handle it.

Furthermore, the person who made you a beneficiary doesn’t have to tell you if your beneficiary status changes. For instance, maybe they told you that you would be listed when they took out the policy, but then they changed their minds and picked a different heir years later. You may be shocked when the money doesn’t go to you, but they did not have to notify you of the change in advance.

As you can imagine, this can make the estate administration process a bit complex. Make sure you understand your rights and what steps to take.