When was the last time you reviewed your estate planning? How about those beneficiary designations? I’ve encountered couples who have been married for several years, but still had mom and dad listed as their primary beneficiaries instead of their spouses. I’ve met divorcees who have been divorced for years, but still have their ex-spouses designated as their primary beneficiaries.
While divorce laws in some states may prevent an ex-spouse from receiving a retirement account via beneficiary designation due to the designations being declared revoked in the divorce decree, it is prudent to revisit your beneficiary designations from time to time.
Some like to think that updating their Will or Trust document prevents them from needing to update beneficiary designations. However, if your Will or Trust says your retirement account or life insurance proceeds are to go to your spouse, but your primary beneficiary designation is Aunt Suzie, you’d better hope your spouse and Aunt Suzie have a good relationship, as the beneficiary designation trumps the Will and the Trust.
Retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and annuities all pass via beneficiary designation, which substitutes for a Will or Trust for these particular assets. Unless the beneficiary designation is your estate, accounts with beneficiary designations pass outside of probate and are, therefore, not subject to public disclosure.
Wills and Trusts remain very important planning tools for accounts and assets that do not pass via beneficiary designation, and serve to handle matters of your estate beyond simply financial accounts and insurance policies. However, in addition to making sure your Will and/or Trust is up to date, make sure you put your eye on those beneficiary designations from time to time as well.
– Barry Nelson