The legal world is full of terms and concepts that are both unfamiliar and difficult for most to pronounce. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the realm of probate and estate planning. Terms like wills, trusts, and codicils are frequently used by courts and lawyers, and are frequently misunderstood by individuals without a legal background.

“Heirs” and “beneficiaries” are two such terms that can be easily misunderstood. You might even use these terms interchangeably. While in some cases it is proper to think of someone as both an heir and a beneficiary, these terms describe two different types of individuals. Understanding the difference between an heir and a beneficiary is crucial to ensuring your estate plan benefits and serves the people you intend.

“Heirs” and “Beneficiaries” Defined and Explained

An “heir,” more fully an “heir-at-law,” is an individual who is entitled to receive your assets after your passing. If someone is your heir, they would inherit those assets according to Florida’s intestate succession laws. They would be entitled to receive those assets if you do not create any will or trust.

A “beneficiary” is someone you specifically designate to receive your assets following your death. If you do not specifically designate someone as your beneficiary and they are not your heir, they would not inherit or receive any assets from you.

Why the Difference Matters to Your Estate Plan

If someone is not an heir under Florida law (or the laws of whichever state in which you live), then they will not inherit any property of yours upon your death. You would need to transfer any items you want such individuals to receive either during your lifetime or execute a valid estate planning document in order to effectuate the transfer after your death.

For example, if you intend to give your church or a favorite charity $5,000 upon your death, that desire would need to be memorialized in a will or other estate planning document. Otherwise, the charity would not receive any money despite your promise or intent.

By contrast your heirs would receive your assets without you doing anything. If you created no trust or will, your heirs would receive your assets and would receive them in accordance with Florida’s intestate succession laws. If you wanted to adjust which heirs receive your assets, or how much of your assets an heir receives, you would need to create an estate plan.

The Lesson: Create an Estate Plan with Help from Your Florida Attorney

A comprehensive estate plan crafted with help from an experienced estate planning lawyer can create certainty for all individuals involved. You, your heirs, and any beneficiaries you wish to designate can all receive certainty from having an estate plan in place.

Largo estate planning lawyers with Centonzio Law are available to show you how easy it can be to ensure you care for the ones you love and causes you care about after your passing. Contact us online or by dialing (727) 900-7290 to schedule a meeting with us today.