When it comes to designating a beneficiary – everything!
It is hard to remember how many times we have named a beneficiary on a document or account. I would say it is even harder to remember who we named. The phrase “out of sight, out of mind” rings true.
The reality is the person or entity named as the beneficiary can trump your plans. Even after spending time and money creating a will and trust, you may have missed an important step. If the beneficiary is not named correctly or updated to meet changes in your plans, your desires will not be met.
Last month our Just for Women webinar focused on Wills and Trusts and featured Kent Brown of Strong & Hanni Law Firm. He shared several threats that can wreck an estate plan. One of those threats was naming beneficiaries. If you missed the webinar, you can view it on our website under Just for Women.
Here are some things to keep in mind when naming a beneficiary.
Naming one child as the beneficiary – We have experienced situations where a single child was named as a beneficiary. The intent was that the named child would split the money among the other children of the deceased. Unfortunately, the child often feels strongly that the money was intended for them alone and therefore does not distribute any money to their siblings. Do not assume a child will feel inclined to distribute the money as you wanted. If you intend that all your children will receive a portion of the account, name them all as a beneficiary and specify their portion. If your child splits the money as intended, they may have a problem with taxation. If the account was a qualified account, the full tax burden falls on the named child. This could push them into a higher tax bracket, reducing the amount distributed to siblings.
Naming a spouse and a child as primary beneficiaries – This often happens in error or because you believe your spouse will need help handling the money at your demise. Naming a spouse as the primary beneficiary gives them full access to the account. Including a child as an additional primary beneficiary does not make them a joint owner in the asset. Instead, it transfers the portion or share listed directly to them as an owner. They are under no obligation to share the money with the surviving parent. This can lead to serious financial consequences for the surviving spouse.
Naming a special needs child or adult – Receiving money as a beneficiary can impede a special needs individual from receiving benefits from assistance programs. A special needs trust can help ensure the individual gets the money intended for them and names someone to handle the money on their behalf, creating a layer of protection.
Not naming a contingent beneficiary – Unfortunately, your primary beneficiary may predecease you, or you may die in a common accident. If there is not a contingent beneficiary listed, the assets will have to go through probate. In essence, you have decided the asset will be handled according to your will, if you have one, or that the courts will decide how your assets will be divided. This can cost the executor of your estate a great deal of time and expense.
Not naming your trust – A common mistake after establishing a trust is neglecting to name the trust as the beneficiary or assuming the attorney has taken care of the change. You are the only one who can sign the document naming beneficiaries on your accounts.
Not updating beneficiary designations – There are so many accounts that require a beneficiary designation that is it easy to overlook an account when you have a significant life change. This could be marriage, divorce, death of a spouse, the birth of a child or newly adopted child, or the death of a named beneficiary. We have uncovered too many instances where the divorce took place years prior. However, the ex-spouse was still listed as the primary beneficiary on the retirement account at the employer. This type of error can cause unintended heartache and financial trouble for a surviving spouse.
Make it a priority to review the beneficiaries on your accounts now. Then each year, take a few minutes to review the current beneficiaries and make changes if needed.
Here are some of the accounts to consider when reviewing your beneficiaries:
- Retirement accounts: IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k), 403(b), 457, SIMPLE IRA, SEP IRA
- Employer’s pension plan
- Life Insurance: Individual policies and group policies
Understanding when to name an individual and when to name a trust can be challenging. If you have questions or need assistance, please contact the SFS Wealth Management Team at 800-748-4788.