Keep Your Beneficiary Designations Updated

The following story comes from one of my colleagues:

After weathering a difficult divorce, Bob met Mary, the love of his life.  After a year of courtship, Bob and Mary were married.  The couple built a great life together.  Bob was in upper management at a major local company, and Mary was a homemaker who relied on her husband for support.  In their free time, the couple traveled the world together and lived life to the fullest.  Sadly, Bob unexpectedly died of a heart attack.

After the funeral, Mary sought the assistance of an attorney to help with the administration of Bob’s estate.  The attorney sorted through all of Bob’s files and records and discovered that 15 years prior, Bob had taken out a $1 million life insurance policy.  Unfortunately, after his marriage to Mary, Bob had never updated the beneficiary designation and it still named his ex-wife as the recipient of the $1 million life insurance proceeds.

Mary was devastated. She and Bob had been married for over ten years. To make matters worse, Bob’s will was drafted such that all estate taxes were to be paid out of the residuary estate. Mary was the recipient of the residuary estate.  As a result, not only did Mary not receive the proceeds of the life insurance policy, but she had to pay estate taxes on the $1 million life insurance proceeds that were paid to the ex-wife!

It is important to recognize that a will does not dictate how all of your assets will pass upon your death.  Many assets, such as certain bank accounts, IRAs, 401(k)s, retirement accounts, life insurance polcies, etc., use beneficiary designations to indicate who will receive the asset upon your death.  As part of a comprehensive estate plan, it is critical that all of your beneficiary designations are reviewed with your estate planning attorney to ensure that they will operate properly in conjunction with your estate planning documents to achieve your intended result.  In addition, it is crucial that your beneficiary designations be reviewed and updated on a regular basis, preferably at least once per year.

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