Life Insurance

Common Mistakes with Beneficiary Designations

Questions about beneficiary designations are among the most common we hear from new clients in our law practice.  This is a topic that should be among those discussed by an estate planning attorney during your first meeting.

Many people don’t understand that their will doesn’t control who inherits all of their assets when they pass away. Some of a person’s assets pass by beneficiary designation. That’s accomplished by completing a form with the company that holds the asset and naming who will inherit the asset, upon your death.

Estate Planning Attorney
Assets with a beneficiary designation will not be distributed according to your will.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid,” explains that assets including life insurance, annuities and retirement accounts (think 401(k)s, IRAs, 403bs and similar accounts) all pass by beneficiary designation. Many financial companies also let you name beneficiaries on non-retirement accounts, known as TOD (transfer on death) or POD (pay on death) accounts.

Naming a beneficiary can be a good way to make certain your family will get assets directly. However, these beneficiary designations can also cause a host of problems. Make sure that your beneficiary designations are properly completed and given to the financial company, because mistakes can be costly. The article looks at five critical mistakes to avoid when dealing with your beneficiary designations:

  1. Failing to name a beneficiary. Many people never name a beneficiary for their retirement accounts. If you don’t name a beneficiary for retirement accounts, the financial company has it owns rules about where the assets will go after you die. For retirement benefits, if you’re married, your spouse will most likely get the assets. If you’re single, the retirement account will likely be paid to your estate, which has negative tax ramifications and may need to be handled through the costly and time-consuming probate courts. When an estate is the beneficiary of a retirement account, the assets must be paid out of the retirement account within five years of death. This means an acceleration of the deferred income tax—which must be paid earlier, than would have otherwise been necessary.
  2. Failing to consider special circumstances. Not every person should receive an asset directly. These are people like minors, those with specials needs, or people who can’t manage assets or who have creditor issues. Minor children aren’t legally competent, so they can’t claim the assets. A court-appointed conservator will claim and manage the money, until the minor turns 18. Those with special needs who get assets directly, will lose government benefits because once they receive the inheritance directly, they’ll own too many assets to qualify. People with financial issues or creditor problems can lose the asset through mismanagement or debts. Ask your estate planning attorney about creating a trust to be named as the beneficiary.
  3. Designating the wrong beneficiary. Sometimes a person will complete beneficiary designation forms incorrectly. For example, there can be multiple people in a family with similar names, and the beneficiary designation form may not be specific. People also change their names in marriage or divorce. Assets owners can also assume a person’s legal name that can later be incorrect. These mistakes can result in delays in payouts, and in a worst-case scenario of two people with similar names, can mean litigation.
  4. Failing to update your beneficiaries. Since there are life changes (like marriage and divorce for example), make sure your beneficiary designations are updated on a regular basis.
  5. Failing to review beneficiary designations with your estate planning attorney. Beneficiary designations are part of your overall financial and estate plan. Speak with your estate planning attorney to determine the best approach for your specific situation.

Beneficiary designations are designed to make certain that you have the final say over who will get your assets when you die. Take the time to carefully and correctly choose your beneficiaries and periodically review those choices and make the necessary updates to stay in control of your money.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 5, 2019) “Beneficiary Designations: 5 Critical Mistakes to Avoid”

Can I Use My Life Insurance to Give to Charity?

As Forbes explains in the article “2 Ways To Combine Charitable Giving And Life Insurance,” one of the core products for protecting wealth is life insurance. As you age, your need for life insurance may lessen, but sometimes it will increase. If you have a life insurance policy that you no longer need, one option might be to use your life insurance to give to charity. You can simply donate your policy to a charity of your choosing.  There are several ways that life insurance policies can be gifted or used for charitable purposes.

Donate your life insurance policy to charity
Use your life insurance policy to make a charitable donation.

Gift Your Existing Policy. You can simply give away an existing policy, if you no longer need the policy for estate liquidity or estate taxes. You could gift the policy outright to your favorite charity or use a Donor Advised Fund (DAF). If you give the policy to a charity outright, you can change ownership of the policy and pretty much be done with it. You might get a charitable income tax deduction for the value of the policy at the time of the gift (it’s measured by the sum of the interpolated terminal reserve plus unearned premiums rather than the death benefit amount).

If the policy has ongoing premiums, those would be the responsibility of the charity. However, you can help them, by continuing to make the premium payments on behalf of the charity by directly paying the insurance company. You could also pay the value of the premiums to the charity and let it pay the insurance company. The premiums would then be tax deductible, since the charity owns the policy.

You could also simplify your life as the donor, where you could convert the policy to a reduced and paid-up policy and donate it with no ongoing premiums needed. This may be easier, because you don’t need to create an additional outflow of cash, after the gift is made to keep the policy in effect for the charity. You just transfer the policy value without any further obligations.

Charities typically like to receive gifts of policies with no ongoing premiums, because it eliminates the task of sending the donor a gift receipt, every time a premium payment is made. It also eliminates the issue of whether the donor or the charity is to pay future premiums.

Gift a New Life Insurance Policy. Another tact is to give a new life insurance policy. This can be a bit more involved, because if the charity’s going to be the owner, they must have an insurable interest in the donor. However, if you have a strong ongoing relationship with the charity, this requirement can be satisfied. You can then pay up the policy completely at the start or make ongoing premium payments over time.

Reference: Forbes (March 6, 2019) “2 Ways To Combine Charitable Giving And Life Insurance”

A Will is an Essential Component of Estate Planning

Drafting a will is a fundamental and essential component of estate planning.

Drafting a will with an experienced estate planning attorney helps avoid unnecessary work and perhaps some stress, when a family member passes away. A will permits the heirs to act with the decedent’s wishes in mind and can make certain that assets and possessions are passed to the correct individuals or organizations.

The Delaware County Daily Times’ recent article, “Senior Life: Things people should know about creating wills,” says that estate planning can be complicated. That’s the reason why many people use an experienced attorney to get the job done right. Attorneys who specialize in estate planning will typically discuss the following topics with their clients.

  • Assets: Create a list of known assets and determine which of those are covered by the will and which have to be passed on according to other estate laws, such as through joint tenancy or a beneficiary designation, like life insurance policies or retirement plan proceeds. A will also can dispose of other assets, such as photographs, mementos and jewelry.
  • Guardianship: Parents with minor children should include a clause regarding whom they want to become the guardians for their underage children or dependents. (For more about this, download Mastry Law’s FREE report A Parent’s Guide to Protecting Your Children Through Estate Planning.
  • Pets: Some people use their will to instruct the guardianship of pets and to leave assets for their care. However, remember that pets don’t have the legal capacity to own property, so don’t give money directly to pets in a will.
  • Funeral instructions: Finalizing probate won’t occur until after the funeral, so wishes may go unheeded.
  • Executor: This individual is a trusted person who will carry out the terms of the will. She should be willing to serve and be capable of executing the will.

Those who die without a valid will become intestate. This results in the estate being settled based upon the laws where that person lived. A court-appointed administrator will serve in the capacity to transfer property. This administrator will be bound by the laws of the state and may make decisions that go against the decedent’s wishes.

To avoid this, a will and other estate planning documents are critical. Talk to an estate planning attorney or download a FREE copy of our estate planning book, Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.

Reference: The Delaware County Daily Times (January 7, 2019) “Senior Life: Things people should know about creating wills”

What’s the Difference Between Per Capita And Per Stirpes Beneficiary Designations?

A will covers the distribution of most assets upon your death. However, any assets that require beneficiary designations, like 401(k), IRAs, annuities, or life insurance policies, are distributed according to the designation for that account. A beneficiary designation takes precedence over the instructions in a will or trust.

Benzinga’s recent article addresses this question: “Estate Planning: What Are Per Capita And Per Stirpes Beneficiary Designations?” Have you changed the beneficiary designations, since the account or policy was first started? If you need to update your beneficiary designation, talk to the company responsible for maintaining the account. They’ll send you a form to complete, sign and return. Keep a copy for your own records.

You should also name a contingent beneficiary to receive the account, in case the primary beneficiary passes away before you can update the beneficiary list. Without a listed contingency, your account designation goes to a default, based on the original agreement you signed and the state law.

With per capita distribution, all members of a particular group receive an equal share of the distribution. Within a will or trust, that group can be your children, all your combined descendants, or named individuals. Under per capita, the share of any beneficiary that precedes you in death is shared equally among the remaining beneficiaries. Within a beneficiary designation, per capita typically means an equal distribution among your children.

Per stirpes distribution uses a generational approach. If a named beneficiary precedes you in death, then the benefits would pass on to that person’s children in equal parts. Spouses are generally not part of a per stirpes distribution.

Assume that you had two children. With per stirpes, if one child were to precede you in death, the other child would receive half, and the children of the deceased child would get the other half.

Create a list of all your accounts that have beneficiary designations and keep it with your will. If you don’t have a copy of the latest beneficiary designation form, write down the primary beneficiary, contingent beneficiary, and the date the beneficiary designation was last updated for each one.

Remember, it’s important to keep both your will and all beneficiary designations up to date.

Reference: Benzinga (December 26, 2018) “Estate Planning: What Are Per Capita And Per Stirpes Beneficiary Designations?”

Can Beneficiary Designations Help Simplify the Estate Planning Process?

Often overlooked, the beneficiary designation can be one of the easiest ways to move assets directly to heirs without going through the probate process.

Many accounts and financial products will allow you to designate a beneficiary.  The beneficiary is the person who will receive the asset directly when the owner passes away. This is something that most of us encounter when we open a bank account, purchase an insurance policy or start a retirement savings plan, according to the article, “A simple way to simplify estate planning,” appearing in the Tupelo (MS) Daily Journal.

MP900442211The type of assets that allow beneficiary designations also include annuities, transfer-on-death investment accounts, pay-on-death bank accounts, stock options and executive deferred compensation plans.

Remembering who the beneficiary is on these accounts can be difficult. However, when you consider the consequences of having the incorrect person named on the asset, it’s well worth the effort. Due to the importance of the beneficiary designation, note these reminders:

  • Designate beneficiaries. Without this, assets can be tied up in probate court, resulting in delays, costs and unfavorable tax treatment.
  • List a primary and contingent beneficiary. It is common to have a spouse as primary beneficiary, and a child as contingent, which lets the asset pass to the child if the spouse has also passed away. You can also name a charity you support to be the contingent.
  • Keep things up-to-date. Any time there’s a birth, adoption, death, marriage or divorce, you should review your accounts and polices.
  • Go through the instructions on the form before signing it. Beneficiary forms can vary, so review each one.
  • Coordinate your beneficiary designations with your will or trust documents. If they don’t, it could cause the probate process to be delayed.
  • Work with an estate planning attorney before naming a trust as a beneficiary. Tax consequences may be different for a trust than for an individual, so some situations make a trust a wise option.
  • Know the tax consequences of naming a beneficiary of a particular asset. That’s because every asset does not have the same tax treatment.

Far too many people learn the hard way, that whatever is on the beneficiary designation determines who receives the asset, no matter what is in your will. Make a list of all of assets that have a beneficiary designation and review it when you review your estate plan. If you don’t have a contingency beneficiary, add that as well. Your estate planning attorney will be able to help you if you run into any questions and to ensure that your beneficiary designations align with your overall estate planning goals.

Reference: Tupelo Daily Journal (November 2, 2018) “A simple way to simplify estate planning”

Do I Have All the Beneficiaries Set Up Correctly on My Assets?

The typical example is an ex-spouse getting all your retirement savings. However, what if you have a child with an opioid addition, you die, and he or she inherits hundreds of thousands of dollars—that vanish in less than a year?

The assets that you own can be passed to your family members in three basic ways: title of ownership is transferred, you name them to inherit assets in your will, or they are the designated beneficiaries named on your various banking and investment accounts and insurance policies.

Many of our assets are transferred through this beneficiary designation, yet we don’t spend enough time tracking and updating these names.

When’s the last time you’ve reviewed your beneficiaries? This question was explored in a recent InsideNoVa article, “Naming Beneficiaries: A Quick Tip to Reduce the Surprise Factor.”

For example, if your checking account is titled in your spouse’s and your name “with rights of survivorship” (WROS), you effectively co-own the account. That one should be all set, at least until the surviving spouse dies.

Your will instructs your executor on the transfer of any assets that aren’t transferred by title or contract. That’s probably at least some of your estate. Therefore, if you don’t have a will, make an appointment with an estate planning attorney to make sure you have this important document.

Next, the beneficiary designation contacts for assets like your retirement accounts, pension plans and insurance policies should be reviewed whenever there’s a major life event, like a birth or adoption of a child, a divorce, or a marriage.

Bigstock-Financial-consultant-presents--14508974Start the process by identifying all the accounts you own, including life insurance policies, annuities, investments, etc. that will pass by beneficiary designation. You should then see who the primary and secondary beneficiaries are for each. You can usually assign percentages to your beneficiaries. Therefore, you could name your spouse as primary beneficiary, 100%. Your children could then be secondary beneficiaries in equal shares.

Some contracts allow you to have your funds be distributed “per stirpes.” In that case, if you name your three children as primary beneficiaries, they each would receive a third. However, if your eldest son dies with you, with per stirpes, his share will go to his children.

In addition, there may be situations when you might designate a trust as a beneficiary. This can get complicated, so work with an experienced trust and estate attorney.

Don’t overlook this detail, as it can have a very big impact, and not always for the good, on your family and loved ones.

Reference: InsideNoVa (October 26, 2018) “Naming Beneficiaries: A Quick Tip to Reduce the Surprise Factor”

How Does Life Insurance Work in Estate Planning?

Life insurance can be useful in paying off debt, covering funeral costs and serving as a useful resource so that estate proceeds or any one person’s savings don’t have to be tapped.

Life insurance may be the least sexy part of the transition from one farming generation to another, but this financial tool can be very valuable. If parents or grandparents have planned properly, the proceeds from the life insurance may provide the funds that permit the farm to stay in the family. The proceeds, which are not subject to estate taxes, can be used to buy out the non-farming siblings so that the family ownership of the land can continue to another generation.

Estate PlanSuccessful Farming’s recent article, “Using Life Insurance in Estate Planning,” quotes David Bau, a University of Minnesota Extension educator based in Worthington, Minnesota. He says, “Life insurance is expensive, but it’s still a very good tool in the process. The farming heirs can have insurance on their parents, and they can use that money to buy out the estate.”

Farm families typically can’t afford enough insurance to cover the increase in land values over several decades. Therefore. life insurance can be a tool to provide some fairness to the process and keep the farming business viable.

Term insurance covers death risk and increases in cost, as the covered person ages. Whole and universal life policies include a savings component with the term insurance, and these types of policies may grow in value over time.

Life insurance has many uses, including the following:

  • Paying estate taxes. Even though few families are likely to be hit by estate taxes with the federal tax reform, some states also have estate taxes;
  • Paying off debts, estate settlement costs and funeral expenses;
  • Savings in whole life policies can be borrowed to cover retirement or nursing home costs for the older generation (but it reduces the proceeds that might go to heirs); and
  • Providing an inheritance to non-farm heirs.

To get the benefits of life insurance, do some careful planning with an experienced attorney and avoid common pitfalls. For example, if you don’t want insurance proceeds to be included in a taxable estate, the heirs need to own the policy. The use of life insurance for paying estate taxes also really isn’t helpful for farmers whose spreads may not be worth as much as the nearly $22 million that a couple can now pass to a new generation tax-free. It should instead be part of an estate planning process designed to provide a fair transition to a new generation.

You don’t have to be a farmer to want to pass along your property and assets to the next generation. But you do need to sit down with an estate planning attorney to make sure that your wishes will be documented, and your will and estate plan is ready to protect your family.

Reference: Successful Farming (October 5, 2018)“Using Life Insurance in Estate Planning”

How Much Life Insurance Do You Need?

Everyone’s needs are different. For most people, one large policy is enough. However, what if your life is not like everyone else’s? How do you know how much coverage you need?

Most people never really think about adding more life insurance, once they buy a policy. They figure they have that policy and insurance through their job. However, what if you wanted to have more coverage? This recent article fromNerd Wallet, “Can You Have More Than One Life Insurance Policy?”explains some life insurance basics.

Money treeFirst, you can own several policies from different companies. However, when you apply, insurance companies will inquire about your existing coverage to make certain that the amount you want is reasonable.

It’s not uncommon to purchase a lot of coverage without any problems. An insurance agent will usually ask why you need a great amount of coverage, if the total coverage would exceed 20 to 30 times your income.

A frequent need to purchase life insurance coverage is to replace income in the event that the main income-earner passes away prematurely. The answer to this is term life insurance. This policy will cover you for a certain period, like 10, 20, or 30 years. Hopefully, when the term expires, you won’t require that life insurance, because your debts are paid, and you’ve finished raising your family.

Rather than purchasing one large policy, you could get multiple policies of different lengths and amounts to match your family’s needs over time. As an example, instead of getting a single 30-year $1 million policy, you could buy three policies: a 10-year for $500,000; a 20-year, $300,000 policy, and a 30-year, $200,000 policy. This type of “laddering” strategy can save money, and it can work, if coverage needs decrease. This way, you can predict them accurately. At least, that’s the theory.

Note: if you decide to buy just a single policy and discover later that you don’t need as much life insurance coverage, most carriers will let you lower the coverage and pay less.

There are also other reasons to buy coverage, besides replacing income. These can include small-business owner needs, long-term care and estate planning.

Before you invest a lot of money into life insurance, speak with your estate planning attorney. They’ll be able to explain the role that insurance plays in estate planning and outline your general insurance needs.

Reference: Nerd Wallet (September 17, 2018)“Can You Have More Than One Life Insurance Policy?”

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