What is the quickest way to un-do an otherwise carefully planned estate? Open a bank account, brokerage or retirement account. Why? Because the beneficiary designations on these accounts override your will. Yes, it’s true – the beneficiary designation is the estate planning trump card. And many an estate plan has come undone because of carelessly named beneficiaries. The Wall Street Journal last week issued a warning in an article entitled Beware the Beneficiary Form. “People don’t realize the importance of this,” says Martin Shenkman, an estate planning lawyer in Paramus, NJ. A carelessly named beneficiary on a financial account can cause a loved one to be disinherited, a disabled child to lose government benefits, and heirs to be slapped with a big tax bill. The Journal also offers a few tips to protect you from this type of estate plan destruction, to include: Know what kinds of accounts have beneficiary designations. Did you know that U.S. Savings bonds have a beneficiary form? Other accounts for which you may have named a beneficiary include retirement accounts, life insurance policies, bank accounts, certificates of deposit, stocks, bonds and mutual funds. Review your beneficiary designations regularly and certainly after any life-changing event such as a marriage, divorce, birth or death of a loved one. Also, job-changers and retirees take note: Beneficiary designations on retirement plans don’t carry over when you roll a 401(k) to a new employer’s plan or to an IRA, or when you convert a regular IRA to a Roth IRA. Learn more about beneficiary designations in the August 2010 issue of our newsletter, aptly titled Beneficiary Designations.
Reference: The Wall Street Journal (July 6, 2011) “Beware the Beneficiary Form”