For many people, retirement accounts such as an IRAs, 401ks, or 403(b)s are their largest assets. And while many spend considerable time thinking about wills and trusts in determining where their hard earned assets will go, many, unfortunately, are too cavalier in addressing their IRA, 401k or 403(b) beneficiary designations.
A beneficiary form is called a “will substitute” because a will does not speak to your qualified retirement assets. This means that the beneficiary form determines who will receive your assets in these plans. It is important to coordinate beneficiary forms with your overall estate and income tax planning to ensure that those you want to benefit from those assets receive them.
In working with a new client recently, let’s call them Mike and Carol, we discovered (much to their surprise) that their beneficiary forms were inconsistent with their living trusts. Mike and Carol had recently amended their Trusts to provide half to each other and half to their children from previous marriages at their deaths. Upon review of their IRA beneficiary forms, we discovered that their forms still listed each other as primary beneficiary and, therefore, their desire to split the assets would not occur. Fortunately, Mike and Carol were able to update their beneficiary forms and now their planning is consistent with their goals.
Beneficiary designation forms are free to complete or change, and they are just as important as your wills or trusts.
Review your beneficiary designations today, and leave any surprises for your next birthday!