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What is the Difference Between an Heir and a Beneficiary?

Heir vs Beneficiary 6.25.201

They might seem similar, but when it comes to estate planning and probate, an heir and a beneficiary have very different roles. Attorney Sarah Siedentopf explains.


Hi, I’m attorney Sarah Siedentopf. I’m an estate planning and probate attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. If you’ve been researching online, it is likely that you have come across the term “heir” and the term “beneficiary.” What is the difference between an heir and a beneficiary?

An heir is someone who would inherit by law if there’s not a will. So, in this case, it’s going to be spouses, children, grandchildren, other relatives. If you die intestate, meaning without a will, your heirs are the people who would automatically inherit. Beneficiaries, on the other hand, are people who are named in your will to inherit things.

So if you have a will, it’s much better to be a beneficiary of your will than an heir, because an heir is just the person who would inherit if there wasn’t a will. So heirs and beneficiaries depend on whether there’s a will and the heir is more or less a blood relationship, other than a spouse. But that is the difference between those two things, and if you have questions about this, I’d be happy to talk to you. Thanks.


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