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Beneficiary designations important in estate planning

Georgia residents who are working on their estate plans should pay careful attention to their beneficiary designations on retirement accounts, life insurance policies and other assets. Often, beneficiary designations are overlooked even when people are otherwise careful with their will and trust planning.

People may remember to make changes in wills and trusts following a divorce or the death of a family member, but in many cases, they do not think to update their beneficiaries. The result can be a retirement account going to an ex-spouse instead of a person's children from their subsequent marriage. If the person named as beneficiary is dead or no one is named, then retirement accounts may be folded into the overall estate, and the heir may be someone the owner of the account did not intend to have the funds.

Another consideration is how the assets are distributed. For example, an IRA might be rolled into the surviving spouse's IRA. In other cases, an heir may be required to begin taking required minimum distributions. However, the age of the heir plays a part in how much is distributed. Another possibility is designating a trust as the beneficiary. People may also want to consider whether the IRA will be subject to estate tax or generation-skipping tax.

As these facts demonstrate, choosing a beneficiary may be much more complicated than simply writing down a name on the form at the time an account is created. Beneficiary designations should be given as much thought as other aspects of estate planning, and people should consider what strategies would best preserve assets for their heirs. For example, if passing an IRA directly to a grandchild would trigger a generation-skipping tax, a person might want to discuss with an attorney other approaches that might avoid this tax.

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