Some property may pass to others on your death without being transferred by a will or a trust. Any property that is owned jointly with survivorship rights passes automatically to the joint owner. This can include real estate, bank accounts, stocks, bonds and other property. Some property may be paid directly to a named beneficiary. This includes life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, 401(k)s, certain bank or brokerage accounts that have named beneficiaries, and certain types of deeds and titles. There can be advantages to simply naming a beneficiary for certain types of property, whether or not you have a will or a trust. For example, if you are married, it may be preferable to name a spouse as the beneficiary of an IRA or 401K account for income tax purposes.
If a husband and wife own everything jointly with survivorship rights and they have identical wills, when the first spouse dies the surviving spouse will become the sole owner of everything held jointly, without the need for reviewing the will or going through probate. However, when the second spouse dies, then the assets will pass through probate and be distributed in accordance with the will of the second spouse. If there is no will, then the assets will pass according to the laws of your state.
It is at the death of the second spouse that things often become complicated and expensive to administer.