A Critical Consideration
By Amanda R. Carpe, Esq.
Planning for the future is an essential part of life, and one of the most critical aspects of this process is estate planning. Having a comprehensive estate plan ensures that your assets are distributed according to your wishes and minimizes confusion and conflicts among your loved ones after you’re gone.
While drafting a healthcare proxy, power of attorney, and will, along with creating trusts, are crucial steps, many people overlook another vital aspect: updating beneficiary designations.
Avoid Unintended Consequences
Beneficiary designations supersede the instructions laid out in a will or trust. If you’ve named specific beneficiaries on your retirement accounts, life-insurance policies, or other financial accounts and have not reviewed or updated them in a while, it’s possible that they no longer reflect your current wishes.
Outdated designations may lead to unintended consequences, such as leaving assets to an ex-spouse, a deceased individual, or someone with whom you no longer have a close relationship. You may also unintentionally exclude one or more children if the account was established prior to the birth of all your children and has not been updated.
Ensure Smooth Asset Distribution
Your estate plan is designed to provide a clear roadmap for the distribution of your assets. By keeping your beneficiary designations current, you ensure that your assets will be transferred efficiently to your chosen beneficiaries and the distributions align with the rest of your estate plan. This process can help your loved ones avoid delays, legal complexities, and potential disputes, ensuring that your hard-earned assets are put to good use without unnecessary hindrances.
Accommodate Changes in Life Circumstances
Life is ever-changing, and so are your circumstances. Major life events like marriage, divorce, the birth of children, or the passing of a loved one can significantly impact your estate plan and beneficiary designations. By regularly reviewing and updating your beneficiaries, you can adapt to these life changes and guarantee that your financial arrangements align with your current family dynamics and relationships.
Maximize Tax Efficiency
Ineffective beneficiary designations can have tax implications. For instance, certain retirement accounts may offer different tax benefits based on the age of the beneficiary. By updating beneficiaries strategically, you can maximize tax efficiency, potentially allowing your beneficiaries to benefit from tax-deferred growth or minimizing their tax burden upon inheriting your assets.
Unlike a will, which becomes part of the public record after probate, beneficiary designations typically bypass this process and remain private. By keeping your beneficiary designations updated and accurate, you help maintain the privacy of your beneficiaries and the details of their inheritances.
Avoid Intestate Distribution
Failing to designate beneficiaries or keeping them outdated can lead to the assets falling into intestacy. In such cases, the Commonwealth’s laws will determine how your assets are distributed, which may not align with your wishes. By actively managing your beneficiary designations, you retain control over who receives your assets, ensuring your legacy is preserved according to your desires.
Estate planning is a responsible and thoughtful way to ensure your loved ones are taken care of after you’re gone. To make your estate plan truly effective, it’s crucial to regularly review and update your beneficiary designations. By doing so, you’ll not only prevent unintended consequences, but also provide your loved ones with a smoother process for asset distribution and avoid unnecessary complications.
Stay proactive, meet with an experienced estate-planning attorney to develop a cohesive estate plan, and keep your beneficiary designations in line with your current wishes — your loved ones will undoubtedly thank you for it.
Amanda Carpe is an associate attorney with Bacon Wilson, where she specializes in estate planning, elder law, and estate/probate administration.