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It's Crucial to Update Beneficiaries When Life Changes


Ensure fairness across generations by choosing the right annuity or life insurance distribution method.


Because annuities, life insurance policies and retirement plans list beneficiaries, they all bypass probate court, meaning that the will won’t determine who gets the proceeds.

Once you’ve bought an annuity or a life insurance policy and named your beneficiaries, you may never think about your beneficiaries again — but that could be a big mistake.

If you get divorced and remarry, but fail to change your beneficiary from your ex-spouse to your current spouse, your ex will receive the proceeds. Besides divorce, other life changes such as marriage or death of a loved one are occasions to review beneficiaries.

Additionally, there may be new people in your life that you want to include, like grandchildren or perhaps there’s a charitable organization you wish to support.

Before making any changes, it’s important to understand how primary and contingent beneficiaries work.

If you’re married, your spouse is usually your primary beneficiary and your child or children are contingent. Contingent beneficiaries will receive the proceeds on your death if your primary beneficiary passes before you do or at the same time as you.

While you should notify the insurer about the death of a primary beneficiary, even if you don’t, the proceeds will automatically go to contingent beneficiaries.

Fairness Across Generations

If you have a number of grandchildren, the issue becomes more complex.

The default is to name your spouse your primary beneficiary and name your children contingent beneficiaries, who’ll all share equally in the proceeds, but suppose you’re married and have 3 adult children.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Suppose child A has 3 children, child B has none and child C has 2, for a total of 5 grandchildren.

What would happen if both your spouse and child C predecease you? In that case, unless you’ve set up your beneficiaries correctly, all the proceeds would go to your 2 surviving children. Child C’s two children would be disinherited.

That’s not what most people want.

Instead, you can specify that if 1 of your children is deceased that their share will go to his or her children. This is called a per stirpes distribution.

That means that each branch of the family will receive an equal share. If that’s what you want to do, you must request per stripes because equal distribution (per capita) is the default.

Per stirpes designations are available from most but not all insurance companies.

Because annuities, life insurance policies and retirement plans list beneficiaries, they all bypass probate court. This means that the will won’t determine who gets the proceeds — which is why having the right beneficiaries is so crucial.

My brief video about using per stirpes can be viewed online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rOBK-nVYxgA.

Annuity expert Ken Nuss is the founder and CEO of AnnuityAdvantage, a leading online provider of fixed-rate, fixed-indexed and immediate-income annuities. He launched the AnnuityAdvantage website in 1999 to help people looking for their best options in principal-protected annuities. More information is available from the Medford, Oregon, based company at https://www.annuityadvantage.com.

Contact: Henry Stimpson, Stimpson Communications, 508-647-0705, Henry@StimpsonCommunications.com

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