Naming Beneficiaries: What You Need to Know


A major issue in estate planning is who to name as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, pension plan accounts, IRAs, and annuities. This important decision often doesn't take into account the substantial estate and income tax consequences the beneficiary may incur.




So before you name a beneficiary, you may wish to gain a basic understanding of beneficiary designations.


One of the first things you need to know is that, in many cases, beneficiary designations supersede a will. That said, not only is naming a beneficiary important, but also it is equally important to make sure that your beneficiary arrangements are consistent with your other estate planning documents.


Not All Beneficiary Designations Are the Same

You can name a beneficiary for many different financial products and investment vehicles. And each has some subtle nuances that are sometimes difficult to discern. In addition, because naming a beneficiary is a legal arrangement, there is certain language you must use to ensure that your wishes are accurately recorded and executed. That's why it is important to consult with a qualified financial professional when making decisions about beneficiaries. Aside from determining who you will name as your beneficiary, you'll also need to consider the following:


  • Age of beneficiary: Most policies and plans will not directly transfer assets to minors until a trustee or guardian is approved by a court.

  • Ability of beneficiary to manage assets: Perhaps a trust set up in the person's name would be better than a direct transfer.

  • Pension plans: Unless waived by the spouse in writing, the law requires a spouse to be the primary beneficiary of the account. 


Naming beneficiaries is a complex matter that requires a great deal of forethought to help ensure that your decisions are in concert with your financial and estate planning goals. A qualified financial professional can assist you in reviewing your beneficiary designations and help you make choices applicable to your situation.



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