“Probate” is a dirty word to most people.
Sure, sometimes it can be helpful. But you generally want to avoid it.
Think of it like the raw broccoli that for some reason is included on every party platter everywhere, but without the dip. No dip, just raw broccoli. Avoid. It.
One of the ways to avoid probate is by naming beneficiaries on your financial accounts and contractual policies.
In estate planning, a beneficiary is a person or entity who receives part of your estate after your death. You can name a beneficiary through your estate planning documents OR through a contract such as a life insurance policy, IRA, or agreement with your bank.
If you designate a beneficiary on an account or policy, then the assets or proceeds of that account or policy will pass directly to the named beneficiary, probate-free, after your death.
Sounds cool, right?
Right. It is very cool.
However, sometimes beneficiary designations can have unintended (and undesirable) consequences. Here are some mistakes to avoid when naming beneficiaries:
1. Not naming a beneficiary
This one seems obvious, but it’s worth mentioning because it is so easy to avoid.
If you do not name a beneficiary (or take other steps to avoid probate), you are virtually ensuring that your estate will be probated. And although probate is not the worst thing in the world, it is costly and time consuming. It is also usually avoidable.
Even if you believe all your accounts and policies have named beneficiaries, double check. Triple check. Check once a year. Do everything you can to make sure you don’t make the silly mistake of forgetting to name a beneficiary.
However, designating beneficiaries is not always as easy as it sounds…