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Heirs and beneficiaries: These are not interchangeable terms

Illinois estate owners, as well as anyone who believes he or she is legally entitled to assets from a deceased person’s estate, will want to seek clarification on numerous legal terms. For instance, many people confuse the terms heirs and beneficiaries, mistakenly believing they can be used interchangeably; they cannot. In other words, being an heir does not necessarily mean that one is a beneficiary or vice versa.

Many people execute solid estate plans before they die that include a last will and testament. In fact, experienced estate law attorneys typically recommend this document as a valuable tool and integral component of the average estate plan. Some people, however, die without having signed a will. In such cases, their estates are left intestate, and the state determines how assets will be distributed.

Regarding estate law, an heir is someone who is a legal relative of an estate owner who dies without executing a last will and testament. The probate court typically passes the shares of an intestate estate to the decedent’s closest living relatives. An exception to the definition of the term would be a spouse, because he or she would not be related to the decedent in the strictest sense of the word.

A beneficiary, on the other hand, is a person who has been named in another person’s estate plan — either in a will, a trust or life insurance policy, etc. An estate owner selects a person, group of individuals or collective group to receive assets upon his or her death. One can be an heir and also a beneficiary, but many people are designated as beneficiaries who are not heirs to the estates in question. As such issues can be complex and confusing to someone without specific educational background in estate planning and administration, anyone with questions regarding heirs and beneficiaries or other legal terms may seek answers by requesting a meeting with an experienced Illinois estate law attorney.