What to Consider When Choosing a Beneficiary

What to Consider When Choosing a Beneficiary

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It's simple: Fill in the blank on the account application and you've named a beneficiary. But don't write off the task as unimportant. Naming the right person to receive the proceeds of an account is an important decision that could have long-ranging effects on your loved ones.

Why it's important

Certain accounts ask you to name a beneficiary, such as life insurance policies, pension plans, and retirement accounts. Upon your death, proceeds from these accounts will typically go directly to the beneficiaries and bypass probate, which helps your beneficiaries avoid some red tape.

What to consider

  • Age: Most insurance companies, pension managers, and retirement accounts will not pay benefits to someone under age 18. A better option is to create a trust for the minor and name a trustee to manage the account until the child reaches the age you specify in the trust.
  • Ability to manage money: If your beneficiary is not able to manage money, name a trustee to invest and disburse funds on his or her behalf.
  • Contingency: Name a secondary beneficiary so that if your first beneficiary dies before you, the account proceeds pass directly to the secondary beneficiary without probate.
  • Options: Your beneficiary can be a spouse, child, or other individual(s); a trust; a charity or organization. If you don't specify a beneficiary, your assets will go into your estate and be distributed according to your will.

Don't 'set it and forget it'

Regardless of what you've specified in your will, assets that have beneficiary designations will pass as provided in those designations, and not how they're set out in your will. It's rarely recommended to name your estate as a beneficiary, since doing so means those assets will pass via probate.

Because so many things change throughout life, review your beneficiary designations every few years—and always after a life event such as a marriage, the birth of a child, adoption, divorce, remarriage, or death—to make sure they're current. Otherwise, you risk leaving the proceeds to an ex-spouse or someone who has died before you.

Get specific information about beneficiaries from a legal or tax advisor and your State Farm agent.