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Mastanduno Law Group Nov. 13, 2014

Naming Beneficiaries for Your Estate and Investments

There are many ways to safeguard your assets for the future. Mastanduno Law Group wants to make sure that every step you need to take is implemented in the organization of your estate. Even though you have a will and personal representative in place, other legal documents need to be examined and particular assets should name a beneficiary.

Beneficiaries should be named in trusts, wills, and life insurance policies. If the person you choose is a minor, they are eligible to be a beneficiary of any of these; however, a minor’s parents or guardians will be responsible for managing assets received by a minor beneficiary. If a beneficiary is not named in these documents, the benefit will be paid to your estate and will be subject to different laws depending on the state you live in; these are called intestacy laws. In Oregon, if you have not named a beneficiary, our intestacy laws state that assets will go to your close relatives, starting with your spouse, then your children, then your grandchildren, then parents, siblings, and so on. If you have no close relatives, and no named beneficiary, there is the danger of escheat, wherein the government takes your assets. If the money goes directly to your estate, probate (the process in which assets from a dead person are transferred to their heirs through the court) is likely to become more complicated and could cause greater expense, reducing the assets that heirs ultimately receive.

Choosing a beneficiary can be an easy process if you want to name a family member. But, it is not required there be only one beneficiary. Your assets can be split between two or more people, fully distributed to a charity, or to trust that you have set up (or any combination of these). Whatever your decision, be sure to review your will and any guardianship agreements for conflicting information. Beneficiary decisions can fluctuate based on unexpected life circumstances. For example, if you want both of your children to inherit your assets, but one passes away, you should amend the document and decide who will take ownership of those assets. You also can set certain rules for the beneficiary to inherit the estate, like waiting until they reach a certain age or get married. Making those adjustments in due time prevents confusion and prevents the courts from getting overly involved.

For investments like life insurance policies and Roth IRAs, you are often asked to name a primary and contingent beneficiary. The primary beneficiary will obviously be your first choice, and the contingent beneficiary is the second choice if the other person cannot be located or has died. A third beneficiary can also be named to back up the other two. It’s important to use names and information to help find your beneficiary; vague titles like “spouse of the insured” could cause problems if you have been married more than once.

After you depart, planning for these contingencies and naming beneficiaries will ease the process of transitioning your assets. By planning ahead, you make life easier for your friends and loved ones who are left behind. Careful consideration should be given to estate planning matters and choosing your beneficiaries is an important part of planning ahead.


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