You generally need a Will to ensure that certain assets in your estate will be distributed according to your wishes. Without a Will, a court may make that decision, and there’s a good chance the outcome may not be what you intended.
However, not all assets pass through your Will. Some provide that you may designate a beneficiary to receive the assets when you die.
Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date on your:
- Retirement plan account. When you joined your employer’s 401(k) or other retirement plan, you named someone to receive the account balance at your death. If you’re married, you may have been required to name your surviving spouse unless your spouse signed a waiver allowing you to name someone else. Check all other employer-provided benefit plans, as each may have a separate beneficiary designation.
- Life insurance. Whether you own the policy yourself or are covered under a group policy offered by your employer, you generally will be able to fill out a beneficiary designation form naming someone to receive the policy’s proceeds upon your death.
- Individual retirement account (IRA). You generally are not required to name your spouse as beneficiary of a traditional or Roth IRA.
A Little Less Common
Beneficiary designations also may play a role in passing along assets other than those mentioned above. Look into your ability to designate a beneficiary if you’re entitled to any of the following benefits.
- Stock options. Your employer’s plan may allow you to designate a beneficiary to exercise your options within a certain time after your death.
- Employee stock purchase plan. You may be able to designate a beneficiary for any company stock you bought through automatic payroll deductions.
- Deferred compensation plan. If you’re a highly compensated employee, you may participate in a “nonqualified” retirement plan. Generally, you can designate a beneficiary to receive these benefits upon your death.
Beneficiary designation assets are “non-probate” assets and, therefore, are generally not governed by your will. For that reason, you should take special care to review your beneficiary designations when there are any changes in your personal circumstances. Births, deaths, divorce, or remarriage are all events that warrant another look.