A beneficiary is anyone who gains an advantage or profits from something. In the financial industry, a beneficiary is someone who is entitled to receive distributions from a life insurance policy, a retirement account, a bank account, a will, or a trust. Beneficiaries can be named by the creator of a will, trust or life insurance policy, the account holder of a bank account or a retirement account, or they can be individuals who have met certain requirements that make them eligible for whatever distribution has been specified. For example, if someone dies without a will, then his or her spouse or children may be “beneficiaries” and therefore entitled to receive property under the state’s intestate succession laws, which go into effect when someone dies without a will.
With something such as an IRA account, you are generally required to designate at least one primary beneficiary, and you have the option of selecting co-primary beneficiaries. In this case you are asked to indicate what percentage of your account you want to designate to each. If a primary beneficiary dies before you do, the remaining portion shall be payable to the surviving primary beneficiaries. However, you also have the option of designating contingent beneficiaries in the event that your primary beneficiaries die before you do.
In regards to life insurance policies, you can generally change the beneficiary on your life insurance policy at any time and as often as you want, providing you are the owner of the policy. However, your life insurance company may require that you meet certain conditions before you make any changes to your beneficiary designation.
Making Changes to Your Estate Plan
An estate plan is composed of numerous documents such as advance directives, a will, a trust, life insurance policies etc. It’s extremely important to keep these documents up-to-date, especially if there are any major changes in your life; for example, whenever there is a divorce, a death, or a birth in the family. As Arizona estate planning attorneys with nearly 30 years of experience, we generally encourage our clients to update their estate plans every two or three years.
Since life is fluid, families go through a lot of changes as the years go by. If you get a divorce or if you have a falling out with a family member, or if there is an adoption, or a new birth in your family, you may very well want your estate plan to reflect these recent changes. If you fail to keep your beneficiaries current, your estate may inadvertently go into the wrong hands, and this can be quite upsetting to your loved ones after you pass.