“Upon passing, your will outlines who gets what, when and how (outright or in trust). Your named executor will submit the will to the proper court which determines its legitimacy and oversees the distribution of assets, a process called probate. However, not all of your assets are controlled by your will.”
On the first day of your new job, you probably talked to the Human Resources Director, who had you complete a huge stack of forms. You needed to sign off that you understood all the corporate policies and received the company handbook. You probably took a stab at how many exemptions to claim for payroll tax withholding, and also completed Form I-9 affirming your eligibility to work. In the stack was most likely a form to choose a medical plan, as well as a form to designate your beneficiaries for employee benefit plans. This might include life insurance, stock purchase plans and your company’s 401(k) plan.
Forbes’s recent article, “Company Benefit Plan Designations Can Lead To A Huge Estate Planning Blunder,” says that now, you should fast-forward to when you met with your estate planning attorney to sign your estate documents. After a few meetings, you probably felt good that this was checked off your to do list.
However, assets that have a form of joint or survivor ownership, or have named beneficiaries, pass on to heirs by law and aren’t part of your probated estate. This usually applies to homes, bank and investment accounts, life insurance, retirement plans and corporate asset accumulation plans. In other words, these are all the plans and accounts where you originally named beneficiaries, but probably haven’t changed those beneficiaries since your first day of work.
When you started your job, you probably named your spouse as your primary beneficiary. If you named a contingency beneficiary, it was probably your children. The secondary designation is probably not something to which you gave a lot of thought. However, if your spouse predeceases you, and if your plans designated your children as contingent beneficiaries, they would inherit all your company benefit plans at once, or upon reaching majority of age 18 or 21.
If that’s not what you want to happen, you need to review your work beneficiary designations. Chances are, you’d prefer to pass assets to your children in stages at, say, ages 25, 30, and 35. If you don’t make any changes, one of your largest bequests derived from employee stock plans and life insurance may not pass the way you want.
Talk to a qualified estate planning attorney for help concerning how your company’s benefits should be titled. The process of revising your beneficiary designations only takes a few minutes.
Reference: Forbes (April 22, 2019) “Company Benefit Plan Designations Can Lead To A Huge Estate Planning Blunder”