Are Your Designated Heirs Up-to-Date?

The end of the year is a time when families often gather together. Although these gatherings may keep you busy, this could be a good time to think about the future and make sure that you have correctly designated family members and any others you wish as beneficiaries in your will, insurance policies, and financial accounts.

This is especially important if there have been changes in your life, such as the birth of a child or grandchild, a death in the family, a divorce, or a remarriage. But even if your family situation remains the same, it’s a good idea to review your beneficiary designations to be sure they are complete and reflect your current wishes.

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Beneficiary Forms May Override Your Will

A will is an essential legal document for designating your heirs and facilitating distribution of your assets if your estate goes through the probate process. However, the assets in most investment accounts, retirement accounts, and life insurance policies convey directly to the people named on the beneficiary forms — even if they are different from the people named in your will — and do not go through probate.

Fortunately, it’s fairly easy to designate or change your account beneficiaries. A will may incur costs to update, but a new beneficiary designation form can be filed with the appropriate financial institution or insurance company. Here are some issues to consider.

  • Your current spouse must be the beneficiary of an employer-sponsored retirement plan unless he or she waives that right in writing. Without a waiver, any children from a previous marriage might not receive account proceeds.
  • Designate secondary (contingent) beneficiaries in the event that the primary beneficiaries predecease you. Otherwise, proceeds would be distributed according to the default method specified in the account documents and/or state law.
  • Some insurance policies, pension plans, and retirement accounts may not pay death benefits to minors. If you want to leave money to young children, you should designate a guardian or a trust as beneficiary.

The use of trusts involves complex tax rules and regulations. Consider the counsel of an experienced estate planning professional and your legal and tax advisers before implementing such strategies.

 

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