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Transferring Ownership of Assets

Does all property pass through probate when a person dies?

No. Only property owned by the person who died that does not pass automatically to a survivor must go through a court process called probate. In a probate, the court appoints a Personal Representative to transfer legal title of the property owned by the person who died to the persons who are supposed to receive it. If the total value of property owned by the person who died is less than a certain amount and the property meets certain conditions, a survivor can use an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property to transfer the property instead of the probate process. Also, if the property owner recorded a Transfer on Death deed for real property, the title to that property will automatically transfer to the named beneficiaries when the owner dies. That property does not need to go through the court probate process.

The steps needed to transfer property depend on the type of property, how the person held title to the property and whether the person named someone to receive the property when he or she died. Some property must pass through probate and other property passes without probate. The sections that follow explain how to transfer some of the most common types of property.

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What is the difference between probate property and nonprobate property?

Property that must pass through probate before it can be transferred to another person is called probate property. This usually includes property owned only in the name of the person who died, such as a house, vehicle or bank account.

Property that passes automatically to someone else when a person dies is called nonprobate property. This usually includes property held with someone else or where the person who died named someone to automatically receive the property. Common examples include a bank account, life insurance benefits, retirement benefits, or real property when you have recorded a Transfer on Death deed.

The same type of property can be either probate property or nonprobate property. For example, a checking account owned only in the name of the person who died must pass through probate and is probate property. But if the same checking account is held jointly with another person who has a right of survivorship, the account will pass automatically to the survivor as nonprobate property.

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How do I transfer real property owned by the person who died to someone else?

The Personal Representative must prepare a Deed to transfer real property to a new owner unless it passes automatically to the spouse of the person who died or to a named beneficiary if the person who died recorded a Transfer on Death deed.

The Personal Representative usually prepares a Quitclaim Deed when transferring property to beneficiaries and heirs because he or she does not know exactly what interest the person who died had in the property and does not want the estate to be responsible for promises about the property. But in some situations, such as a sale to an unrelated buyer, the Personal Representative may choose to prepare a Warranty Deed. In that case, the Personal Representative will usually ask a title company to look into the property to reduce the risk that the estate will be responsible for making promises. Very specific language is used to create a Quitclaim Deed and a Warranty Deed. If you have any questions about preparing a Deed, you should talk to a probate lawyer.

The Personal Representative must record the new Deed with the Alaska Recorder's Office in the recording district in which the property is located.

Real property can usually stay in the name of the person who died until it is time to transfer the property. It does not need to be transferred first into the name of the Personal Representative on behalf of the estate. If there is a current loan on the property, the beneficiary or heir should arrange to assume the loan, pay off the loan or refinance the property before accepting a Deed to the property.

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How can I transfer real property without a probate?

Real property can be transferred without a probate if it is held in one of the following ways:

If the property is held as tenants by the entirety or as Alaska Community Property with a right of survivorship, it passes automatically to the spouse who survives the person who died. There is no need to do anything to transfer the real property to the surviving spouse. If the surviving spouse wants to sell or transfer the real property, he or she will need to record a new Deed and a certified copy of the Death Certificate of the spouse who died with the Alaska Recorder's Office in the recording district in which the property is located.

If the property is held by a Trustee in a trust, it will continue to be held in trust for the benefit of the beneficiaries named by the person who died. There is no need to transfer ownership because the Trustee already legally owns the property. For more information, see Trusts.

If the person who died recorded a Transfer on Death deed, the property passes automatically to the named beneficiaries. There is no need to do anything to transfer the real property to the beneficiaries.

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How do I transfer personal property owned by the person who died to someone else?

How to transfer personal property depends on several factors including:

The sections below contain information about transferring some of the most common types of personal property.

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How do I transfer bank accounts?

You must follow special rules to transfer bank accounts such as checking accounts, savings accounts, share accounts and certificates of deposit. Who receives the accounts when an account owner dies and how the accounts are transferred depends on how the account is titled.

If a person added someone to his or her account during life with the right to sign checks for convenience only, the signer has no right to any of the account funds at death.

Transferring joint bank accounts with a right of survivorship

These accounts are held jointly with one or more persons, which can be a spouse or an unrelated person, or both. The terms of the account create an automatic right of survivorship. The chart below shows who will receive the account when the person dies and what you will need to transfer the account with the bank.

Account Owners who Survive the Person who Died
Who Receives Account
Documents Needed to Transfer Account

One of the surviving account owners is the spouse of the person who died.

The surviving spouse receives the entire share of the person who died.

Certified copy of Death Certificate

None of the surviving account owners is the spouse of the person who died.

The surviving owners share equally in the share of the person who died.

Certified copy of Death Certificate

There are no surviving account owners (the person who died was the last surviving account owner).

The estate receives the entire account. 

Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property

If no Personal Representative is appointed, the bank can pay the account to the beneficiaries or heirs of the person who died.

Certified copy of Death Certificate and proof of death of all other account owners.

Transferring joint bank accounts without a right of survivorship

These accounts are held jointly with one or more persons, including a spouse or an unrelated person, or both. The terms of the account do not create any automatic right of survivorship. The estate receives the entire share of the person who died, even if other account owners survive. To transfer the account, the bank will need the Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property.

Transferring Alaska community property bank accounts

These accounts are created by both spouses under the Alaska Community Property Act. The chart below shows who will receive the account when one spouse dies and what you will need to transfer the account with the bank.

How Title is Held
Who Receives Account
Documents Needed to Transfer Account

With survivorship

The spouse receives the entire account.

Certified copy of Death Certificate

Without survivorship

The estate receives the entire account.

Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property

Transferring payable on death bank accounts

These accounts can be held jointly with another person or only in the name of the person who died. Each account owner can name one or more payable on death "POD" beneficiaries to receive that owner's share of the account when he or she dies. However, if the account is a joint account with a right of survivorship or an Alaska community property account with a right of survivorship, only the POD beneficiary of the last surviving account owner receives anything.

The chart below shows who will receive the account when the person dies and what you will need to transfer the account with the bank.

POD Beneficiaries who Survive the Person who Died
Who Receives Account
Documents Needed to Transfer Account

More than one POD beneficiary survives.

All POD beneficiaries share equally in the account.

Certified copy of Death Certificate and proof of death for all account owners if account had a right of survivorship.

Only one POD beneficiary survives.

The POD beneficiary receives the entire account.

Certified copy of Death Certificate and proof of death for all account owners if account had a right of survivorship.

No POD beneficiaries survive.

The estate of the account owner who died receives the entire account (not the estate of the last surviving POD beneficiary).

Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property

If no Personal Representative is appointed, the bank can pay the account to the beneficiaries or heirs of the person who died.

Certified copy of Death Certificate and proof of death for all account owners if account had a right of survivorship.

Transferring single party bank accounts

These accounts are held only by the person who died. The estate receives the entire account when the person dies if there was no payable on death beneficiary. To transfer the account, the bank will need the Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or the Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property.

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How do I transfer investment accounts?

Investment accounts held at a financial institution or a brokerage company have their own forms of ownership. The account may pass with or without a probate depending on how title is held. You should read the terms of the account or talk to the broker of the person who died to find out how each account passes and what documents you need to transfer the account.

Usually, if the account passes automatically to a survivor, you will need a certified copy of the Death Certificate to receive the account. If the account passes to the estate of the person who died, you will need the Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or the Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property.

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How do I transfer life insurance, annuities and retirement plan benefits?

Most of these plans allow the person who died to name a payable on death beneficiary to automatically receive his or her benefits. If the person who died did not name anyone, the plan itself sometimes names a beneficiary to automatically receive the plan benefits. If the person who died named his or her "estate" as the beneficiary, the property must pass through probate. You should read the terms of the plan or contract or talk to the plan administrator to find out who will receive the benefits and what you will need to transfer the benefits.

Usually, if the benefits pass automatically to a survivor, you will need a certified copy of the Death Certificate to receive the benefits. If the benefits pass to the estate of the person who died, you will need the Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or the Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property.

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How do I transfer vehicles?

The Alaska Division of Motor Vehicles ("DMV") issues Certificates of Title for some types of vehicles, including cars, motorcycles, trucks, trailers and manufactured homes not permanently attached to real property. Vehicles that do not have Certificates of Title include snowmachines, ATVs, tractors, off-road equipment, boats and aircraft.

A vehicle that has a Certificate of Title may or may not pass through probate, depending on how title is held. The chart below shows who will receive the vehicle and what document you need to transfer title of the vehicle with the DMV.

How Title is Held at DMV
Who Receives
Document Needed to Transfer Title

Person who died "AND" survivor

Survivor

Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property *

Person who died "OR" survivor

Survivor

Certified copy of Death Certificate

Person who died only

Estate of person who died

Letters Testamentary, Letters of Administration or Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property *

* Note: If the estate is a small estate, the DMV also requires a certified copy of the Closing Statement showing that the person has the right to the vehicle.

Vehicles and equipment that do not have a title are transferred as tangible personal property without a title.

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How do I transfer tangible personal property that does not have a title?

Tangible personal property includes items such as furnishings, jewelry, artwork, tools, equipment and sentimental belongings. If an item of tangible personal property has a title, such as a vehicle, you must follow the title rules to transfer ownership. Most tangible personal property does not have a title.

If a spouse survives the person who died, this type of property usually passes automatically to the surviving spouse because spouses are assumed to hold this property as tenants by the entirety. In this case, there is no need to do anything to transfer the property.

To transfer these items to a beneficiary or heir other than the surviving spouse, the Personal Representative must prepare a document such as a Bill of Sale, Assignment or Deed of Distribution which proves that the new owner has the right to the property. The document should do the following:

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How do I transfer firearms?

Firearms are transferred to a new owner as tangible personal property without a title. However, the Personal Representative and the person receiving the property must follow all federal and state laws relating to firearms. The Personal Representative must make sure that the beneficiary or heir is qualified to possess and own the firearm under both federal law and the state law where the beneficiary or heir lives before releasing the firearm. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives controls the ownership, transfer and shipment of firearms under federal law.

How do I ship firearms?

If the beneficiary or heir is a resident of another state, he or she may pick up the firearm personally in Alaska and ship it directly to himself or herself. If the beneficiary or heir does not personally pick up the firearm, the Personal Representative must ship the firearm through a federally licensed dealer. The Personal Representative cannot ship directly to the beneficiary or heir.

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How do I transfer aircraft?

Personal aircraft are transferred to a new owner as tangible personal property without a title. The new owner must register the aircraft with the Federal Aviation Administration ("FAA") and give a Bill of Sale and a certified copy of the Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration to the FAA. If the aircraft is located in Anchorage, the Personal Representative must also notify the Municipality of Anchorage of the change in ownership.

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How do I receive the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend for the person who died?

The Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend ("PFD") is an annual payment made by the state of Alaska to persons who have been a resident of Alaska for a full calendar year. The person who died is entitled to the PFD if any of the following apply:

The Personal Representative or a successor under an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property can collect or apply for a PFD for a person who died. The deadline to apply is the end of the application period for the dividend year after the person died (usually March 31).

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How do I transfer capital credits, frequent flyer mileage, refunds and uncashed checks?

There are many types of tangible personal property that have special requirements for transfer. Below are guidelines for some common types of property:

Capital credits from a utility

Utilities that are run as member cooperatives, such as some electric companies, often return profits to members (or former members) after a certain number of years. When a member dies, some utilities will return the profits immediately. You should contact any cooperative utility from which the person who died received services for the claim forms. Depending on the length of service and utility usage, capital credits can vary from a few dollars to several thousand dollars.

Airline frequent flyer mileage

In some cases, airline frequent flyer mileage earned by the person who died can be transferred to family members. You should contact the customer service department for each frequent flyer program for this information. Sometimes, even though the rules say that the credits cannot be transferred, the customer service office will make an exception, especially if the mileage will be used for the estate.

Refunds and uncashed checks

You should collect any refunds owed to the person who died, such as magazine subscriptions, prepayments or tax refunds. You should also gather and deposit all uncashed checks issued to the person who died, including the person's last paycheck. You will need a certified copy of the Letters Testamentary or Letters of Administration or an Affidavit for Collection of Personal Property to endorse and deposit checks issued to the person who died. You can also ask the issuer of the check to reissue it with your name and title to make depositing it easier.

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How do I transfer Native (ANCSA) stock?

Native corporation stock created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) passes as follows:

The Native corporation that issued the Native stock, and not the probate court, makes all decisions about how and to whom the stock passes. Native stock is treated as nonprobate property even if it passes under a Will or through intestacy.

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How do I transfer "restricted property" (Native allotments and townsite lots)?

Restricted property is real property granted to Native Alaskans by the Secretary of the Interior as either Native allotments or townsite lots. If the owner of restricted property dies, the property can only be transferred with the approval of the United States Bureau of Indian Affairs ("BIA").

All restricted property must pass through a special BIA probate process, handled by a federal law judge. The property does not pass through the Alaska probate court. If the person who died made a Will, the Personal Representative must give the original Will to the BIA. If the person had other property that must pass through an Alaska probate, the Personal Representative can file a certified copy of the Will with the Alaska court.

The federal law judge must decide whether a Will is valid or not. Some requirements include:

If a Will does not meet all of these requirements, the restricted property passes to the person's heirs under Alaska intestacy law in the BIA probate.

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How do I transfer fishing permits?

Many commercial fisheries in the State of Alaska require a special "limited entry" permit in order to participate. Some of these permits can be quite valuable. Prices are set according to the free market. A limited entry fishing permit can only be left to one person. The law will not allow the permit to be divided among your spouse and children. If you do not mention the permit in your Will, or if you have no Will, the permit will go to your spouse. If you have no spouse, the permit will probably need to be sold unless you only have one heir or, if you have more than one heir, all of the heirs agree who should get the permit. Consequently, it is very important that you have a section in your Will naming the person who is to receive your fishing permit. You can also fill out a form called Designation of Permit Recipient Upon Permit Holder's Death Adobe Acrobat PDF logo.

Learn more about limited entry fishing permits and estates Adobe Acrobat PDF logo. The Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission has different forms that deal with estate issues.

The federal government also has a limited entry program for fisheries conducted in federal waters. These "permits" are called Individual Fishing Quotas (IFQs). These are valuable property interests which can also be distributed pursuant to a Will. Learn more out IFQ survivor transfers.

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Where can I learn more about the different tasks for Personal Representatives?

You can learn more about the:

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Rev. 4 September2014
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