If you don’t know who your beneficiaries are, then it’s time for a beneficiary designation check. Even if you think you remember, every now and then, they should be checked, according to an article “Are your beneficiary designations up to date?” from Community Voice.
Your choices may change with time. When did you open your very first IRA? Do you even remember when you purchased your life insurance policies? If it was back in the 1990s, chances are good the people in your life have changed, as well as your priorities.
When we filled out those forms on paper, back in the day, we were all confident they’d be the same forever, but time and life have a way of changing things. In five, ten or twenty years, big changes may have happened in your life. Your beneficiary designations and your estate plan need to reflect where you are now, not where you were then.
Smart people review these items every year. If you’re still working, your employer may have changed custodians for your retirement plan and your insurance policy. When a new custodian takes over, sometimes beneficiary designations can get lost in the change.
If you don’t have a beneficiary designation on these accounts, or any account where you have the option to name a beneficiary, you may have a bigger problem. The tax-focused part of your estate plan could be undone if you thought your 401(k) would go to your spouse but your spouse predeceased you.
If you don’t want your spouse to inherit your 401(k) or other retirement plan, your spouse will need to waive the inheritance in writing, if you want those assets to go to children or others. By law, spouses are protected when it comes to certain kinds of retirement accounts.
What most people don’t realize is that whatever choice you make on the beneficiary designation overrides anything in their wills. If you named someone to be your beneficiary, whether or not they are in your life, they will still receive the inheritance. Your family can try to fight it out in court, but they most likely will lose.
Another pitfall: naming the financial whiz in the family, then forgetting to review documents. Problems can arise if the whiz-kid moves far away or dies. If you make big changes to how you wish your estate to be distributed and neglect to tell the person named to carry out your updated wishes, they spend a lot of time trying to effectuate an out-of-date plan.
If you name your spouse as a beneficiary, the tax consequences are simpler. However, you still need an estate plan to plan for when the second spouse dies. In other words, you need an estate plan, including a will and trusts, and you also need to review it at least every three to five years.
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