Posts tagged beneficiary designation
Should I use beneficiary designations or joint tenancy instead of a revocable living trust?

Some assets get transferred at the time of your death simply by operation of law. For example, assets that you own with others as joint tenants automatically become theirs upon your death. Other assets are transferred by virtue of beneficiary designations that you've used on those assets. A prime example would be the beneficiary you've named to receive your retirement account upon your death.

The threat of probate is occasionally overstated. However, relying solely on using the joint tenant form of title or beneficiary designations may fail to accomplish the objective of avoiding probate. For example, without further action, when the last surviving joint tenant on a property dies, it will need to be probated.

Beneficiary designations on accounts generally have the benefit of permitting one to name one or more alternate beneficiaries in case the primary beneficiary dies. Therefore, there's generally some ability to plan for contingencies. That being said, the naming of alternate beneficiaries may not be adequate to cover all of the potentialities of how your asset may need to be transferred. For example, if all of the beneficiaries you've named on a retirement account pass away, that asset may need to be probated at the time of your death to allow your heirs at law to claim it (which, by the way, may not be what you want).

Usually clients are advised to name their revocable living trust as either the primary or secondary beneficiary of assets that utilize beneficiary designations. This may depend on the client's marital status and other circumstances. Naming a trust as the beneficiary of retirement accounts involves consideration of the minimum distribution rules, so it's important to consult with a qualified professional when making changes.

How do I maintain control over property I give away?

A basic function of estate planning is to make sure the people or organizations that you want to receive your property actually receives it, but have you really thought about how that would work? Would you just give a lump sum to your teenage son or daughter? If you left money for a charity, how would you know they are using it in the way that you want? What if a person you wanted to leave something to passed away before you--who would get it then? If you have a business, will your partners buy you out? Or, will your family join the business and work in it?

Some Basic Techniques

As a general rule, I think the "KISS" method works quite well in estate planning. (KISS = "Keep It Simple, Stupid") The more complications that get introduced to a distribution scheme, often the more failure points you may be introducing. That being said, there are some basic, tried and true techniques that work and are often good to implement. Here are some of them:

  1. Leaving gifts to a young beneficiary in a trust that call for distributions at various ages. Or, if the amounts are rather small, utilizing "CUTMA" to hold the property for the beneficiary until he or she reaches a certain age.
  2. Utilizing a marital trust to hold property for your spouse to give him or her lifetime enjoyment of those assets, but also ensure that specified beneficiaries (often children) will receive whatever is leftover.
  3. Providing that where a named beneficiary fails to outlive you, the property going to that person will get distributed among his descendants. This is a commonly used provision where you want to benefit not just the beneficiary you've named, but also that person's family.

If you engage an estate planning lawyer, you will undoubtedly face one or more of these concepts depending on your situation (e.g., whether you are in a relationship or have children).