Non-probatable assets are those which are owned by a decedent when the person passes away and there is no beneficiary designation otherwise appointing the assets to someone.
In your mother's case, she has life insurance and a checking/savings bank account(s).
Normally, when people buy a life insurance policy, they designate certain people as beneficiaries of the policy (on paperwork which is completed when the insurance is initially purchased). If there are beneficiaries designated, then the beneficiaries named on the life insurance policy will receive the proceeds upon your mother's death regardless of what her last will and testament provides. If she has named no designated beneficiaries, then the life insurance proceeds will, by default, be paid to her probate estate and her estate must be probated in order for the proceeds to be distributed, according to will or the state's intestacy statute if she passes away without a will.
As for the checking/savings account(s), if they are only in your mother's name (with no joint account holder with right of survivorship and/or no payable on death provisions associated with the accounts), then these account(s) will also be part of your mother's probate estate which will need to be processed through the court system prior to being distributed accordingly.
Life insurance with beneficiary is a non-probate asset. With benificiary as her estate it is a probate asset.
Savings/Checking with beneficiary / payable on death designation (POD) is non-probate. Otherwise it is a probate asset
A life insurance policy will almost always list a beneficiary and that asset does not go through probate. The bank accounts should have a POD designation as well and that will not be a probated assets either. If there is no real estate, then your brother will have nothing over which to be an Executor and cannot complain. Keep in mind, your Mother may say 35% to each son and 10% each to the grandchildren BUT if she listed a beneficiary on the life insurance policy or bank account, the Will is irrelevant and has no weight. Additionally, while Mother may name one of you and expect him to split up the assets according to her will, there may also be gift tax consequences involved. Yet again, if she is competent enough to make estate plans, work on this NOW before she dies and there is a battle.
This is intended to be general guidance and not necessarily state specific advice. There are some concepts that are the same or similar in most jurisdictions but not all. Use the AVVO.com web site to find an attorney in your area for state specific advice. In addition to that, contact your local bar association for referral to an attorney who specializes in this or talk to friends and neighbors to ask about an attorney they have used and liked. Often, but not always, the attorney will do an initial consultation free of charge. You will then be in a better position to determine what to do next. Best of luck to you!
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Eliz. C. A. Johnson
Post Office Box 8
Danville, California 94526-0008
Legal disclaimer: I do not practice law in any state but California. As such, any responses to posted inquiries, such as the one above, are limited to a general understanding of law in California and not to any other jurisdiction. In addition, no response to any posted inquiry should be deemed to constitute legal advice, nor to constitute the existence of an attorney/client or other contractual or fiduciary relationship, inasmuch as legal advice can only be provided in circumstances in which the attorney is able to ask questions of the person seeking legal advice and to thus gather appropriate information.