Beneficiary Designations Can Become Very Critical Errors in Your Estate Planning!
In all of the years that I have serviced my client’s planning their estates, one of the most important areas of the planning is making sure they are aware of the beneficiaries of their property.
Many times, they have older life insurance and annuity contracts which haven’t been reviewed over the years, consequently, their family dynamics may have changed, and updating is necessary.
The life insurance beneficiary and estate beneficiary are not exclusive to the planning. Other property should always align with the overall planning, however, in this article, I want to focus on some of the pitfalls in naming beneficiaries, as this is, in my opinion, the most common mistake made in planning, not updating beneficiaries.i
- Not thinking about the financial ability of the beneficiary to handle the inheritance they will receive. For example, they could be minors, incapacitated, or just uniformed in their thinking about finances, a bad marriage, and a host of other situations. That being the case, a trust makes sense as they are flexible to design and can be amended over time.
- They are an adult, but you just don’t have the confidence that leaving a large sum of money to them is the right thing to do. Example: leaving $500,000 to a 21-year-old son. This will usually end up being a nightmare. Again, a trust can be a great vehicle to control the outcome of paying the lump sum directly.
- Leaving a large amount of money to your elderly sibling, or parents. They are usually next in line to have to deal with the Medicaid system. There are other ways of leaving the property to help them for future income and lifestyle needs, which will not jeopardize the asset to the Medicaid system.
- Not naming contingent beneficiaries. Should the primary beneficiary listed not be living at your death, the assets will pass to your estate versus to the next in line. Naming contingent beneficiaries guarantees that should your primary beneficiary not be living at your death; the contingent beneficiaries will receive the assets.
- Not naming “per stirpes” to your beneficiaries if you want your beneficiaries’ issues to receive the asset, should the beneficiary not be living. Example, leaving asset to your child, if living, if not living, to their issues (your grandchildren).
Tax ramifications are important also, Example, you want your two children to receive $125,000 each from your $250,000 IRA. Child A has little income and is in the 12% income tax bracket. They will pay $15,000 in taxes (Fed). Child B is a professional making over $450,000 a year. They will pay much more in taxes, example 35% or $157,000.1
Child A will pay $15,000 taxes on the IRA and net: $110,000 and $150,000 (life insurance) = $260,000
Child B will pay $37,500 taxes on the IRA and net $87,500 and $150,000 (life insurance) = $237,000
In this case, more of the IRA could be left to child a with less tax than child b up to $329,000 before they hit the 24% tax bracket. The equalizer would be to leave more of the life insurance tax free payment to child b, and less of the taxable IRA. When you work it out, you would help save taxes on the IRA by 11%.
There are many more Pitfalls which I can share with you, however, these seem to be the most common ones that I run into.
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