Many assets, including individual retirement accounts (IRAs), life insurance policies, and annuities, can have beneficiaries designated to receive the asset after your death. Make these selections carefully, since they typically override any provisions in your will. Consider the following points:
- Select the most appropriate person as beneficiary for each asset.
First, list all assets with beneficiaries, noting the owner, primary beneficiary, and contingent beneficiary. Then determine whether you have selected the appropriate person as beneficiary for each asset. In some cases, tax and estate planning considerations may help dictate whom to select. For instance, spouses typically have more options when inheriting an IRA, so that may be the better choice for your IRA.
- Name contingent beneficiaries.
Without a named contingent beneficiary, the asset will be included in your probate estate if your primary beneficiary dies before you. Then, the asset may have to go through the probate process and may be distributed to someone you had not intended to receive the asset.
- Indicate what percentage of the asset each beneficiary should receive.
Also, in the event a beneficiary dies before you, decide whether each beneficiary's share should be distributed to that person's heirs or divided among the remaining beneficiaries.
- Assess whether beneficiaries are capable of managing the asset.
If not, you may want to set up a trust to control the asset's distribution.
- Periodically review your beneficiaries to see if changes are warranted.
A divorce, remarriage, spouse's death, or child's birth are all events that may require changes to beneficiaries. You should also review your beneficiary choices if you make changes to your will.