Beneficiary Designations Will Overrule Your Will

It is important to keep in mind that not all assets are affected by the terms of a will. Bank accounts, trusts, and retirement accounts that have designated beneficiaries transfer to the beneficiaries; these assets never go through probate if they have another way of being transferred. Likewise, certain properties can be transferred to co-owners and not be affected by probate or a will. Many people think a will is the official way for transferring assets after death. The will is only one of several ways that assets can be transferred, and only assets that have no other way of being transferred end up being handled by the will. Your will or trust will not overrule the beneficiary designations on a life insurance policy, annuity, trust or retirement account (like an IRA or 401(k) plan). We have heard from several family members that have realized too late that the recently deceased failed to update his/her beneficiary designations. In those cases, spouses from previous marriages or children that predeceased their parents were named as beneficiaries on accounts. Unfortunately, nothing can be done after death to change beneficiary designations. For this reason, it is important you review and update your beneficiary designations regularly. So, how can you update your beneficiary designations? First, make a list of each retirement account, life insurance policy, trust, and annuity that you own. Next to each account, write down the beneficiary and the date it was last updated. In addition to a primary beneficiary, you should also name a contingent beneficiary. This means if the primary beneficiary predeceases you, you have already specified who the account should then go to. Put this list with your will, advance directive, and power of attorney, and make a habit of reviewing all of your estate planning documents and beneficiary designations annually. If you need to update a beneficiary, contact the company or log onto that company’s online account. There will be an easy-to-access beneficiary designation form for you to fill out, sign, and return to the company. Should you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to our office at (404)843-0121 or

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