Some types of assets, such as retirement accounts and life insurance policies, pass by beneficiary designation. A beneficiary designation is an agreement between you and the entity administering the asset (such as the retirement account custodian or the life insurance company) in which the administrator of the asset agrees, following your death, to transfer the asset to those persons whom you have designated during your lifetime. The beneficiary designation is done on a template form created by the administrator, and is generally executed around the time when you create the retirement account or purchase the life insurance policy.
Generally, the asset is transferred fairly quickly after your death once the named beneficiary provides the administrator with your death certificate and completes some paperwork provided by the administrator. Transferring assets by beneficiary designation is a straightforward process and can generally be accomplished without involving an attorney or a court. It is important to keep in mind that if you have a beneficiary designation form completed with the administrator, this designation will control over your Will, even if your Will specifies a different distribution than the one specified under your beneficiary designation.