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A Better Partnership


Mar 2019
March 08, 2019

Who Gets Your Life Insurance Money After You Die?

Hint: It may not be the people named in your will or trust.

You have created a will and perhaps a trust and spelled out your intentions for your assets once you are gone. You are confident you have made the necessary preparations to provide for your family. Now you can relax, right? Not so fast...
One of the most important, yet most forgotten, parts of estate planning is keeping track of who will benefit from those assets which are not governed by your will.
What Types of Assets Are Not Governed By Your Will?


  1. Anything in an account subject to a Beneficiary Designation 
    If you have a life insurance policy, an IRA or a 401(k), you likely signed a beneficiary designation form indicating the person (called the beneficiary) who is to receive these assets upon your death. If you have a completed beneficiary designation on file, the assets in your account will not pass to the people named in your will—they will pass to the person(s) named on the designation form, even if that is no longer what you intend.

  2. Anything jointly owned a with a “right of survivorship”
    Property, such as real estate, owned jointly by you and another owner with the “right of survivorship” will pass automatically to the surviving owner, not under your will or trust.
How Do You Make Sure Assets Go Where You Want Them to Go?

Keep an updated list of all assets and accounts that are subject to a beneficiary designation, and check these names every five years or so, and whenever you make a change to your estate plan.


  • Make sure that the beneficiaries are still living and still a part of your estate plan.
  • Sign new beneficiary designation forms to make name changes or replace any beneficiaries that do not line up with your current estate plan.
  • Keep copies of these updated designations with your other estate plan documents.

Note that even if your will “pours over” all of your assets to a trust upon your death, assets with a right of survivorship or a beneficiary designation will not be included in this action. You must retitle joint assets to be governed by a will or trust, and to pass assets governed by a beneficiary designation to a trust, you must name the trust on the designation form.
Why Is Keeping Beneficiary Designations Updated So Important?


  1. To keep from accidentally disinheriting someone
    • Stories abound about people who discovered that their deceased spouse’s life insurance or retirement account beneficiary had not been updated in years, and the account was actually designated to an ex-spouse, sibling or deceased parent. 
  2. To preserve government benefits for someone who is disabled.
    • If your asset passes to a special needs child or a disabled adult who relies on government aid to assist with the disability, receiving this money directly can disqualify him/her from receiving necessary future aid, even if the amount they receive from you is not large.
Make the Future Easier for Your Family

Providing for your family includes checking your beneficiary designations regularly and whenever you make a change to your estate plan. Your attorney can answer questions about naming beneficiaries for your assets or about the tax implications of designating assets to a person, estate or trust.

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