One way to show loved ones that you care, is by having an estate plan and communicating your wishes to them clearly, notes the article “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now” from The Street. That includes adding beneficiaries to your retirement and investment accounts. This simple step will help save heirs time, money and emotional stress at a time when they are likely to be overwhelmed with grief and paperwork.
They’ll retain more of your estate and get it faster too. When beneficiaries are assigned to investment and retirement accounts, the assets pass directly to them. If there are no beneficiaries, the asset may have to go through probate, the legal process of settling an estate when someone dies.
Probating an estate usually involves going to court, which is something your beneficiaries would probably prefer not to deal with during a challenging time. A typical probate case could last a year, sometimes longer, depending on where you live. During this time, your beneficiaries are not able to access their inheritance. Going to court also means court fees, attorney fees, lost time, and additional stress.
Let’s not leave out how much of a bite probate can take out of your estate. Depending on its complexity, probate can consume anywhere from 0.5% to 5% of the estate.
Removes one stress for loved ones. Having assets transfer directly to beneficiaries lessens what can be an intense burden for heirs, while they are grieving. Once the account provider is notified of the death of the account holder, the provider typically notifies beneficiaries. The beneficiaries have to provide the correct documentation, like a death certificate, but that’s a whole lot easier than going through probate. Obtaining death certificates is usually part of the executor’s responsibility and doesn’t cost very much.
Beneficiary designations override your last will and testament. By law, a beneficiary designation determines who receives assets, regardless of what is in your will. That’s why it’s so important to make sure your beneficiary designations are up to date. What happens if you neglect to update your beneficiaries on a life insurance policy purchased when your children were young? For instance, what if you are divorced from their father, but you forget to replace him as the policy beneficiary? In that case, your ex-spouse will receive the policy proceeds, no matter how many years you have been divorced.
It’s easy and relatively painless. Updating or establishing beneficiaries is one of the easiest parts of estate planning. Start by making a list of your accounts, which you should have anyway and contact the account custodian to find out who is listed as a beneficiary. If no one has been named, get directions on how to establish the beneficiary designation and if possible, name a secondary beneficiary.
If you have an IRA or a 401(k), your account will typically offer a beneficiary form within the account. If you have investment accounts, you’ll need to request a form from the custodian.
Special rules for retirement account beneficiaries. There are rules about leaving retirement plan assets to a spouse, so if you want to leave those assets to children or grandchildren, your spouse will have to sign off on that, with a waiver. Depending upon where you live, a spouse may be entitled to have of the assets in an IRA, even if other beneficiaries are listed, unless there is written consent.
There may also be reasons to name your trust as the contingent beneficiary of your retirement accounts, but this should only be done in consultation with your estate planning attorney, as your trust must be drafted in a certain manner to deal with qualified retirement accounts.
Reference: The Street (June 12, 2020) “Why You Should Add Beneficiaries to Your Investment Accounts Now”