New Year, but Same Old Beneficiaries? Here's Why You Need to Review


We're already more than a month into the new year, which means that millions of ambitious New Year's resolutions have likely fallen by the wayside. But there's one quick and easy money task that you really shouldn't put off a minute longer: Checking the beneficiary designations on your financial accounts.

It may not sound important, but as far as life-and-death to-do items, this one's pretty high on the list. And getting it done could make a huge difference to your family.

Where There's a Will...

Many people believe that as long as they have a will that indicates who gets their assets, they're automatically covered. But for many types of assets, including retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and even ordinary bank and brokerage accounts, your will doesn't necessarily govern what happens to your money.

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Instead, you must fill out beneficiary designation forms to tell the financial providers that manage your what to do with your money after your death. And any time your life situation changes -- you get married or divorced, have children, or a loved one dies -- you need to review those designations. Otherwise, your money can end up not going to the people you'd want to receive it after your death.

Here's the Way

Naming beneficiaries doesn't have to be complicated, but it is important to follow some simple tips:

  • Be precise about how much you want each beneficiary to get and under what situations. For instance, many people name a spouse as a sole primary beneficiary, with children or others named as contingent beneficiaries. That means that your spouse will get everything if he or she survives you, but if your spouse dies before you, the contingent beneficiaries receive your assets.

  • If you name multiple beneficiaries, be particularly careful if you give more to one beneficiary than another. With some forms, it can be hard to get detailed with your wishes, but you don't want the limitations of a form to prevent you from doing what you want with your money.

  • Finally, after you send or submit the form, check back to make sure the company received and filed it. Otherwise, all your efforts could go to waste.

Resolutions are hard to stick to. But with beneficiary designations, once you get it done, it should stay done for a nice long time. Your heirs will thank you.

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