Investing in life insurance is a foundational part of estate planning, and when done right it’s a primary way to say “I love you” to your loved ones after you are gone. However, when naming your policy’s beneficiaries, several mistakes can lead to potentially dire consequences for the people you’re investing to protect and support.
The following four mistakes are among the most common we see clients make when selecting life insurance beneficiaries. If you’ve made any of these errors, contact us immediately, so we can support you to change your beneficiary designations on your policy and ensure the proceeds provide the maximum benefit for those you love most.
01 – Failing To Name A Beneficiary
Although it would seem common sense, whether intentional or not, far too many people fail to name any beneficiary on their life insurance policies or inadvertently name their “estate” as beneficiary. Both of these errors will mean your insurance proceeds must go through the court process known as probate.
During probate, a judge will determine who gets your insurance death benefits. This process can tie the benefits up in court for months or even years, depending on who the beneficiaries of your estate are under the law. Moreover, probate opens up the proceeds to creditors, which can seriously deplete—or even totally wipe out—the funds.
To keep your insurance proceeds out of court , make certain you designate—at the very least— one primary adult beneficiary. In case your primary beneficiary dies before you, you should also name a contingent (alternate) beneficiary. Name more than one contingent beneficiary for maximum protection in case your primary and secondary choices die before you.
Ideally, we often recommend that the primary beneficiary of your life insurance is the Trustee of a well-considered and thoughtful Trust Agreement to provide maximum benefit and protection for your heirs.
02 – Forgetting To Update Beneficiaries
While failing to name any beneficiary is a huge mistake, not keeping your beneficiary designations up to date can be even worse. This is particularly true if you are in a second (or more) marriage and fail to remove an ex-spouse as beneficiary, which can leave your current spouse with nothing when you die.
To prevent this, you should review your beneficiary designations annually as part of an overall review of your estate plan and immediately update your beneficiaries upon events like divorce, deaths, and births. When you are our client, we have built-in systems to ensure your beneficiary designations (along with all other documents and decisions in your plan) are regularly reviewed and updated.
03 – Naming A Minor (Or Their Guardian) As Beneficiary
You are technically permitted to name a minor child as a beneficiary of your life insurance , but it’s never a good idea. Minor children cannot receive insurance benefits until they reach the age of maturity—which can be as old as 21 in some states. In the event a minor is listed as beneficiary, the proceeds of your insurance will be distributed to a court-appointed custodian, who will manage the funds (often for a not insignificant fee) until the child reaches the age of maturity. At that point, all benefits are distributed to the beneficiary outright and unprotected.
This is true even if the minor has a living parent. A child’s living parent could petition to the court to be appointed custodian. Still, there is no guarantee that a parent would be appointed custodian, especially if the parent cannot qualify or pay for a bond. In many cases, a court could deem a parent unsuitable (if they have poor credit, for example) and instead appoint a paid fiduciary to control the funds.
Rather than naming a minor as a beneficiary, you may think to name the person you have chosen as guardian of your child. But that’s not the right answer either. In that case, all insurance would pay outright to the named guardian and could be used in any way they choose, or even be at risk of being taken in a divorce or by a judgment creditor of the guardian.
Instead, the right answer is to set up a trust to receive the insurance proceeds and name a trustee to hold and distribute the funds to a minor child you would want to benefit from your insurance proceeds, when and how you determine, or even hold them protected for your beneficiary to control but safe from divorce and creditors if you choose.
04 – Naming An Individual With Special Needs As Beneficiary
Although a loved one with special needs is likely one of the first people you’d consider naming as beneficiary of your life insurance policy, doing so can have tragic consequences. Leaving insurance directly to someone with special needs could disqualify that individual from receiving much-needed government benefits.
Rather than naming someone with special needs as a beneficiary, you should create a “special needs trust” to receive the insurance proceeds. This way, the money won’t go directly to the beneficiary upon your death. Still, it would be managed by the trustee you name and dispersed according to the trust’s terms without affecting benefit eligibility.
The rules governing special needs trusts are complicated and vary greatly from state to state, so if you have a child with special needs, meet with us today to discuss your options. In the end, special needs planning involves much more than just life insurance—it’s about providing a lifetime of care and protection.
Eliminate Future Problems Now
While naming life insurance beneficiaries might seem simple, if you’re not careful, you can create major problems for the loved ones you’re doing your best to benefit. Meet with us, your Personal Family Lawyer® today to ensure you’ve done everything properly.
We can also support you in planning tools like trusts—special needs or otherwise—to ensure your insurance proceeds provide the maximum benefit for your beneficiaries without negatively affecting them. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session to get started.
This article is a service of Sahmra A. Stevenson, Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
The content is sourced from Personal Family Lawyer® for use by Personal Family Lawyer firms, a source believed to be providing accurate information. This material was created for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as ERISA, tax, legal, or investment advice. If you are seeking legal advice specific to your needs, such advice services must be obtained on your own separate from this educational material.
Balancing the needs of a multi-generational blended family with your own wishes can be a complicated task, especially when it comes to estate planning. With a majority of Americans not only marrying once, but twice, three or even four times during their lives, it is a challenge that will come to many.
Even when blended family members get along, estate planning can be complicated. The potential for acrimony among family members can be so great that some people choose to avoid addressing the issue of who will inherit what altogether. However, as any estate planning attorney will tell you, having no plan is not a good plan.
Overall, an effective estate plan for a blended family will ensure that:
Any ex-spouses do not inherit;
Your own children are protected;
Your current spouse is provided for;
Any estate taxes are minimized
Estate plans are as individualistic as the families they cover, so it is always advisable to consult with an expert before finalizing your plan. Although there are a plethora of online resources and books on the subject, estate planning for the blended family does not make a good do-it-yourself project.
A Personal Family Lawyer can provide you with the individual attention you need to create an estate plan for your blended family. If you’d like to learn more about estate planning for blended families, call our office today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk.
This article is a service of Sahmra A Stevenson, Esq., Personal Family Lawyer®. We do not just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session™, during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.
As you’ve surely heard by now, we’re in the midst of great economic shifts. The collapse of the crypto market, the roller coaster that is the stock market, rising interest rates, dropping home values, and inflation through the roof—it’s enough to make you sick. And it can make you sick, unless you take the actions we are sharing here.
During every economic shift, whether it’s the Great Depression, the last Great Recession, or even during the pandemic, some people get rich, while others lose everything. Whether your family got rich, lost it all, or just hung on by their toes, you can learn from what happened and create the exact future reality you want for yourself and the people you love.
But to do that, you need to get into action now. In service to that, here are 3 steps you can take right away to change your family’s future and ensure you have the stability you need to sail through the economic shifts in the best way possible.
On that note, whether you’ll be passing on wealth or inheriting it, it’s crucial to have a plan in place to reduce the massive loss that will occur if you wait to start the estate planning conversation. Whether you have a little or a lot, not getting clear on what you do have (or will receive) can cause major upsets that can cost you far more than just money.
01 – Get into conversation and connection
The first step to ensure your family benefits from the current and coming economic shifts, regardless of what happens, is to get into conversation and connection with the people you depend on, the people who depend on you, or who you will depend on, if something happens to you or your assets.
With the economic realities that are upon us, we can no longer go it alone, expecting everything to just work out because the stock market is on the rise and there’s plenty of savings cushion in the bank. Instead, this is the time to bring your family together and talk about what there is, where it is, and how it’s being managed (and will be managed) in the event there is a black swan event, such as the pandemic or a major stock-market crash.
If you are afraid to have these conversations because you think your family might not do well with knowing what you have, because you think they can’t handle knowing what you have (or don’t have), or because there has been upset in the past when talking about family financial resources, that’s a sign that it’s more important than ever to get into conversation and connection as soon as possible.
If you’ve attempted to have these conversations with your loved ones in the past and it hasn’t gone well, reach out and ask for our help. We’ve got processes and systems in place to support you to have these delicate conversations with your parents, kids, or siblings, with far more ease than you trying to do everything all on your own.
And if you don’t have living parents, kids, siblings, or a spouse, it’s even more important that you start these conversations. You can begin by identifying who you need to have these conversations with. We work with many single people and unmarried couples to help them navigate and talk about what can be a confusing and uncertain future, and we can help you, too.
If talking about assets and the allocation of family resources is easy for your family, that’s great—it’s time to take it to the next level by following the rest of the steps outlined here. Once you get into conversation with the right people based on your family dynamics, the next step is to get comfortable enough to “open the kimono.” This involves creating an inventory that lists all of the assets you own, where they are located, and how the people you love can find them in the event you become unable to share those details yourself.
02 – Open the kimono: Create your “Family Wealth Inventory”
Whether you’ve created a formal set of estate planning documents already or not, it’s time to create (or update) an inventory of your assets. In our experience, most estate plans don’t do a very good job of keeping assets organized. When a loved one becomes incapacitated or dies, this is actually one of the biggest sources of expense, heartache, and pain—no one knows what there is, where it is, or how to find it.
One of the greatest gifts you can give the people you love is what we call a “Family Wealth Inventory,” and it’s something we create for all of our clients as part of their estate plan. We will not only create this inventory for you, but we have systems to keep it consistently updated year in and year out, as your life, assets, and the law change over time.
During a major economic shift, creating, updating and revising your Family Wealth Inventory is critical, and doing that with the people you love is your number-one mission. As we see it, family wealth isn’t just about your financial wealth, it’s about your whole family wealth, including your intellectual, spiritual, and human assets. In fact, these non-financial, intangible assets are usually what we all care about most, and yet they are so often overlooked in estate planning.
One of the best ways to maximize your family’s intellectual, spiritual, and human assets is for your loved ones to get into relationship around your family’s financial resources. Begin by creating (or updating) your Family Wealth Inventory, and share it with your loved ones, so you can discuss how to best allocate (or re-allocate) those resources. Having this conversation can help ensure your family’s intellectual, spiritual, and human wealth continues to grow, even as we move through these uncertain economic times.
If you don’t have a Family Wealth Inventory yet, contact us and ask about our Personal Resource Map. This free, online resource-mapping tool will help you start creating your asset inventory right now, without the need for a lawyer. From there, meet with us for a Family Wealth Planning Session. During this meeting, we’ll look at what you have, where it is, and who will take care of it if you can’t, so we can create a plan that’s right for you and your family, whether we have a recession, depression, inflation, or whatever else may come our way.
03 – Consider reallocating your resources
Once you’ve created your Family Wealth Inventory, which allows you to see all of your assets in one place and consider the needs of your family, regardless of the economic climate, you may decide to reallocate your resources. For example, now might be the time to invest in multigenerational housing that will allow you and your kids to live together for many years or allow you to care for aging parents, while still maintaining privacy. Or you may decide that it’s time to create that homestead you’ve been talking about building, or launch that business you’ve been wanting to start. And it could be that now is the time to do all of that with the people you love.
When we meet with you for a Family Wealth Planning Session, we’ll help you look at whether your resources are being held in ways that will support you to reach your short and long-term goals. Then, we can either help you reallocate your resources to achieve those goals, or refer you to professionals we trust to help you reallocate. The worst thing you can do right now is not look at your family resources because you are afraid to see what’s there or you want to keep your head buried in the sand.
Times are changing, and the best time to look at what you have, so you can consider the future you want to create and intentionally allocate (or re-allocate) your resources is right now. Those who do so will thrive. Those who don’t will fall behind and wish they had done something different once it’s too late.
04 – Update your plan
Once you look at what you have, where it is, and how you want it allocated, the next issue to decide on is who would take care of it all if you cannot. Leaving the management of your affairs to chance or to out-of-date estate planning documents is the worst thing you can do for yourself and those you love.
In an upcoming article, we’ll cover the Great Wealth Transfer that’s happening, detailing how between $30 and $80 trillion of wealth will be transferred between the generations over the next few decades, and how you can best prepare for that transfer.
In the meantime, start by updating the estate planning you already have in place to handle your assets in the event of your incapacity or death. If you don’t have any plan at all, the state has one for you, and it almost certainly isn’t what you would want to have happen. And if you do have an estate plan in place, it’s likely out of date, or possibly wasn’t even created properly to begin with.
No matter what you have—or don’t have—we can help.
Secure your wealth, your legacy, and your family’s future
Regardless of how much, or how little, wealth you own, now is the time to look at what you have, talk to your parents about what they have, and talk to your kids about what they’ll need to take care of you. And if you don’t have living parents or kids, talk to your siblings or close friends. As your Personal Family Lawyer®, our Life & Legacy Planning Process is designed to guide you to look at all of these things with ease and talk to the right people based on your family dynamics and assets, as affordably and effectively as possible.
Every plan we create has built-in support for your life and legacy, which can greatly facilitate your ability to make wise legal and financial decisions throughout your lifetime and beyond. That’s why we call our services Life and Legacy Planning, not just estate planning.
By working with us, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, you can rest assured that no matter what happens with the ongoing and future economic shifts, your family wealth will offer the maximum benefit for your loved ones. Schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session today to start having these critical conversations to ensure you and your family will thrive through the recession and any other calamity that may occur.