An essential part of estate planning is designating beneficiaries for your life insurance policy, 401(k), and other financial accounts. A beneficiary is a person who receives someone’s assets upon their death.

There is no “correct choice” when choosing the beneficiaries who will inherit from you. It’s a personal decision. What must be handled “properly” however is the process of naming beneficiaries so that your loved ones can inherit what you desire for them. Let’s look at beneficiary designations in a bit more detail.

Why You Should Have Beneficiaries

A common misconception is that a Last Will and Testament controls where all your assets go at the time of your passing.  In truth, most/many of your assets are conveyed by joint designations and beneficiary designations. Assets like 401k’s, retirement accounts, and life insurance proceeds should have a beneficiary designated and normally do not pass according to your Last Will & Testament.  The people you choose will assume ownership of the accounts when you die and can use the funds however they want.

Although designating beneficiaries are not mandatory, deciding not to name a beneficiary can create issues for your family. Instead of having immediate access to the funds, your loved ones will have to go through Surrogates court to authorize the distribution of your assets. Not naming a beneficiary can also result in harmful tax consequences for your beneficiary.

The probate process can be time-consuming and costly. It can prevent your family from using the money they need to pay for necessary expenses immediately. Disputes can also arise if they disagree over who is entitled to the assets.

Who Can Be a Beneficiary?

Choosing a primary and contingent beneficiary is crucial when you pick your beneficiaries. A primary beneficiary is a person who will receive the asset. A contingent beneficiary is a person second in line to receive the asset if the primary beneficiary dies.

You can designate anyone as a beneficiary with some exceptions. Depending on who you pick, creating separate legal documents or setting up additional accounts might be necessary.

The most common parties designated as beneficiaries include:

How to Designate Beneficiaries

If you have a retirement account, life insurance policy, or investments through a financial advisor, ask for a beneficiary designation form to complete. Banks can provide the form for checking and savings accounts. You can talk to your employer about adding beneficiaries to your 401(k) or profit-sharing plan.

Beneficiary designations often require the person’s full legal name and other details, such as:

Providing up-to-date information is crucial to avoid unnecessary delays while the insurance company or financial service company tries to locate your beneficiaries. Ensure all the details are accurate and make changes whenever necessary. You must update the form immediately if your chosen beneficiary dies.

Contact a Trust and Estate Lawyer Today

Naming beneficiaries is one of the most important decisions you will make. Protecting your assets and securing your family’s financial future is essential during estate planning.

Reach out to our experienced trust and estate lawyers immediately to learn more about beneficiary designations. We can review your assets and help you with the beneficiary forms. Schedule a consultation today.


This article is a service of Miller & Miller Law Group. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love.