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What happens if a designated beneficiary has already died?

On Behalf of | Apr 26, 2018 | Estate Administration & Probate |

Beneficiary designations on pay-on-death accounts – life insurance, 401(k) or Roth retirement funds and saving/checking accounts – are too often ignored.

Upon purchasing a life insurance policy or setting up a Roth, your loved one probably listed a beneficiary and maybe even a successor beneficiary, then probably didn’t think about it again. Over the years, these designations can easily become obsolete. What happens when they are not updated?


Probate may become a requirement

Let’s use the life insurance example. A mother lists her husband as a beneficiary and oldest child as a successor beneficiary. It is always a good practice to list a successor beneficiary. But in this case when she dies, her husband has already been gone for 10 years and her oldest child passed away the year before. The mother has two other younger children who are still alive.

The life insurance policy would become an asset of the mother’s estate. Provisions of her will would then determine how the money is distributed between her remaining children.

Pay-on-death account beneficiary designations usually transfer assets outside of a will and probate. By failing to update them, it could require a probate proceeding that would not have otherwise been necessary. In even worse scenarios, failure to update a beneficiary designation could mean that an ex-spouse inherits an account rather than a current one or children.

If you are like most people, you probably have a good percentage of your assets in these types of accounts. A good rule of thumb is to review your estate plan after any significant life change or about every five years. In coordination with the estate plan checkup, also review these beneficiary designations to ensure they are still correct.