If you have a retirement fund, life insurance policy or brokerage account, you’ve likely completed a beneficiary form. The form ensures that the person(s) you designate will receive or control the assets appointed to him or her at the time of your passing.
Designating a beneficiary allows you to allocate the assets passing outside of your will as desired, making it a crucial part of the estate planning process. As such, it is important to understand that while beneficiary forms govern the transfer of assets outside of your will, your will controls the assets making up your probate estate and includes other details and functions beyond the scope of a beneficiary form.
All of this means that both your will and your beneficiary forms should work together. That’s why, when you sit down with a Stock and Leader attorney to discuss your estate plan, we ask you to bring beneficiary forms with you.
Who is a beneficiary and why do I need to appoint one?
A beneficiary could be an individual, two or more individuals or a charity. To designate a beneficiary, it must be documented on the appropriate forms. Such designations may be revised at any time to ensure your choices are up to date and appropriate. It is important to revisit these documents periodically to ensure they are updated if, for example, you’ve been divorced or widowed since last completing the forms.
Primary beneficiaries receive all death benefits so long as they can be located after your death. Contingent beneficiaries are second to the primary beneficiary and receive all death benefits in the event that the primary beneficiary cannot be located or passed away.
To which of my assets should I appoint a beneficiary?
The following accounts typically supply beneficiary designation forms:
- Retirement funds
- Life insurance policies
- Brokerage accounts
Retirement funds may consist of Individual Retirement Arrangements (IRAs), 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, Simplified Employee Pensions (SEPs), Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) or KSOPs. These accounts can be complex in nature as they may have special requirements.
What should I consider when designating a beneficiary?
When designating a beneficiary, it is important to consider the amount or percent you are leaving to a single heir. It may be important to consider how this affects your estate planning goals and the tax consequences for the beneficiaries themselves.
Contact Stock and Leader today to meet with a knowledgeable estate planning attorney.