How Asset Titling and Beneficiary Designations Override Your Will
You have a Will that clearly states who your property passes to at your death. Would you be surprised to learn that not everything is controlled by your Will? Could it be possible that the majority of your assets would pass at your death to someone completely different or in a manner that is contrary to those stated wishes?
Regardless of what your well developed Will or Trust says, your beneficiary designations and the title of your assets will control the ultimate distribution of those assets. Retirement accounts, life insurance policies, and annuities pass to the beneficiaries you named when you filled out the opening paperwork (or updated it) - not under the provisions of your Will or Trust. Accounts or real estate held jointly with right of survivorship automatically pass to the surviving owner at the first owner's death and this is not changed by your Will or Trust. As you can see, designating beneficiaries and titling assets incorrectly, or failing to update them when circumstances change, can have negative, and far-reaching consequences.
For example, let's say you have a Trust that provides that at your death, all of your assets should be held in trust for the benefit of your minor children. If your minor children are named as the beneficiaries of your life insurance policy instead of your Trust, then that means at your death those life insurance proceeds will pass outright to your minor children - not to the trust you established for them. Another common mistake is naming one child as a joint with right of survivorship owner on your bank or investment account. You may do this so that your child can more readily assist you with paying bills or managing the account.* However, at your death, that account will pass to that one child instead of being split equally among all of your children as provided in your Will.
Review your beneficiary designations and asset ownership periodically, and after any major life changes, to ensure they match your estate plan and goals. If you have questions about how to title assets or designate beneficiaries, we are happy to assist.
*A better solution would be a Durable Power of Attorney or Revocable Trust which allows the child to assist you with financial matters, but not to automatically inherit the account at your death.