Deeper in Faith
Is My Will Enough?
by Ray Lewis
Every adult should have a will, whether 25 or 75 years old. Contrary to what many people think, wills are not just for senior citizens. Many people think estate planning is done once they’ve gone through the trouble of making a will. They think a will is the “last word” on who gets their assets at their death. If you are one of these people, I advise you to think again.
Be aware that your will may not be the controlling document in disposing or distributing some assets upon your death. Beneficiary designations automatically override your will. So, if you change your will, make sure you change your beneficiary designation as well.
Beneficiary designation is the act of naming one or more persons to receive benefits when you die. Do you know the beneficiaries on your retirement account, life insurance policies, or living trusts? These accounts are “beneficiary-designated accounts,” meaning your beneficiary designation overrides your will and other legal documents. Therefore, it is extremely important to be aware of who is currently listed as your beneficiaries.
Because so many accounts are beneficiary-designated, it is very important that you review all beneficiary designations regularly, at least every few years, but certainly after you experience a life-changing event.
Some examples of when you should update your beneficiary designations include:
If you were single when you opened a beneficiary-designated account and listed a parent or sibling as the beneficiary, and then forget to change the designation after getting married, your parent or sibling—not your spouse—will receive those assets when you die.
If your beneficiary dies before you.
In the case of a divorce, if you fail to change the beneficiaries on your beneficiary-designated accounts, your ex-spouse could wind up with your retirement funds and the proceeds from your life insurance policies, even if your will states otherwise.
Something we don’t like to think about, but unfortunately happens: you might get upset with a beneficiary and write them out of your will. If they are still listed as the beneficiary on a beneficiary-designated account, they will still receive those assets.
In each of these circumstances, someone other than the person you want to receive your assets may still end up claiming the bulk of your assets if you do not also change the beneficiary designation on your accounts.
Too many people neglect to update their designations on the flawed assumption that the instructions in their wills dictate distribution of funds after death. That is not so. Remember that the beneficiary-designation form controls. To make sure your assets go to the person you want to receive them when you die, make sure to update all beneficiary designations whenever a major event in your life warrants such a change.
About the Writer: D. Ray Lewis has been the director of the Free Will Baptist Board of Retirement since 2005. He and his wife Ida live in Antioch, TN.