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Sun04202014

Business

Getting to know your beneficiaries

When you set up an IRA or participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you are typically asked to fill out a beneficiary designation form.
 
 Charles Sims Jr.

Thanks to a popular 2007 motion picture, many Americans now have a “bucket list” – an inventory of accomplishments they hope to achieve in their lifetimes.

Although many bucket list endeavors require courage or tenacity, such as traveling to faraway places or writing a book, there’s at least one task you can resolve to accomplish that is fairly simple but could have lasting benefits for your family, friends, and possibly a favorite charity.

Designate your beneficiaries

When you set up an IRA or participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you are typically asked to fill out a beneficiary designation form. Although many people postpone the naming of a beneficiary, this can be a big mistake. IRAs and most retirement accounts are not subject to probate, and the assets will convey directly to your designated beneficiaries, regardless of different instructions in your will. Whoever is designated as your account beneficiary will inherit the proceeds directly, and it would be unlikely for a probate court to order a different result.

Failing to designate a beneficiary means your estate could inherit the money. Because your estate is not eligible for the same tax benefits that individual investors enjoy, your estate would be required to withdraw the assets over a shorter time period. By contrast, a correctly named beneficiary can preserve the tax-deferred status of the inherited funds and spread the tax liability over several years or even over his or her lifetime.

Life insurance policies, too

Life insurance benefits also convey directly to beneficiaries, independent of the probate process. Although it would be unusual to purchase life insurance without designating a beneficiary, it’s not unusual for policy owners to fail to review their beneficiary designations on a regular basis.

The reasons you bought your life insurance policy and the people you want it to protect may change over time. But only you can change the designated beneficiaries on your life insurance policy. Major life events such as marriage, birth, divorce, or death may affect your choice of beneficiaries, and it’s important to update your designations to keep pace with any changes in your life.

Estate conservation issues may be uncomfortable to face, but there’s probably no other aspect that is as simple or inexpensive as designating beneficiaries. Keeping your beneficiary designations up to date can help ensure that your valuable assets go to the people you want to inherit them.

(Charles Sims Jr., CFP, is President/ CEO of The Sims Financial Group. The information in this article is not intended as tax or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Neither the information presented nor any opinion expressed constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.)

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