Some of your most significant assets, like your life insurance and retirement accounts, ask you to make beneficiary designations. If you make valid beneficiary designations on these assets, then upon your death they will pass directly to your named beneficiaries without being subject to the probate process. Click here to view our article on probate and why you might want to avoid it.
Many people overlook the importance of beneficiary designations and neglect to name beneficiaries because they think their other estate planning documents will cover those assets. However, beneficiary designations operate independently from other estate planning documents, like a will or trust agreement. Therefore, you should make beneficiary designations because your other estate planning documents will not control how these assets are to be distributed and to whom they should be distributed. If you neglect to name beneficiaries, then these accounts or policies could become part of your estate and be subject to the probate process.
Just as it is important to make beneficiary designations, it is equally as important to review and, if necessary, update those designations. Major life events, changes in circumstances, or even a change of heart can all warrant an update to beneficiary designations. It is good practice to review your estate plan every three to five years, and each time you do so you should be reviewing your beneficiary designations.
Finally, it is important to consider any unintended consequences to naming someone as a beneficiary. For example, if a special needs person receives assets through a beneficiary designation, then he or she may no longer be eligible for government benefits. In these circumstances and in others, you should consult with an estate planning attorney to discuss your options.
Beneficiary designations are an important part of your estate plan and require special attention. If you would like more information on beneficiary designations and estate planning in general, please contact attorneys Carl D. Holborn, Kelly M. Condon, or Margarita A. Castaneda.
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