Just as experts recommend checking the batteries in your smoke detectors the two times you change your clocks each year, setting a reminder each August for #NationalMakeAWill month is a great way to ensure that your documents are in order and your estate is set to be distributed the way you intend.

Unfortunately, unexpected natural disasters, tragic accidents or sudden health events happen—and more often than you might expect.

It is prudent to periodically:

  1. Revisit designated primary and secondary beneficiaries on any financial accounts and life insurance policies.
  2. Consider assigning a trusted contact with whom your financial institution may share information on a limited basis or contact to help reach you in an emergency.
  3. Update any asset schedules referenced in a will.
  4. Confirm that assets you wish to be held in a trust are titled in the name of the trust to avoid the probate process.

Beneficiary Designations May Control Asset Distributions

If you have not written a will, periodically revisiting the beneficiaries on any financial account or life insurance policy is a simple way to designate who you wish to receive your assets.

For example, it’s common for many to name their spouse as primary beneficiary when they open accounts yet forget to change the designation if they divorce.

Even if you’ve written a will, you’re not out of the water. Beneficiary designations can control how certain assets are distributed upon the asset owner’s death. So, if you decide to make a change to how those assets are distributed in your will, you should make sure you designate beneficiaries on accounts to align with those wishes.

Should you be reaching advanced age and have adult children, it’s important to consider the likelihood of outliving all of your family members. Many choose to designate multiple beneficiaries, which may include children, grandchildren, other family members or organizations that are important to them.

On the other hand, should you have young children, it’s important to think through how you wish to transfer funds in the case of your premature death. Life insurance benefits may not be distributed to minor children until they reach the age of majority, which is typically 18, but can differ by state. To avoid lengthy delays in gaining control of life insurance proceeds, an alternative option could be naming a revocable living trust as the beneficiary.

Revocable Trust – A living trust that can be terminated or amended by the grantor. Usually set up by a person during his or her lifetime for his or her own benefit or the benefit of someone else.

EXPLORE: Selecting a Trust for Your Situation

After working with an attorney to draft a trust document unique to your situation, specific assets held in the trust should be retitled in the name of the trust, to avoid their going through the probate process (e.g., real estate).

Case Study in Designating Contingent Beneficiaries

Our client Fred had already lived a long and rich life into his nineties when he met with his estate attorney to review his estate planning documents and financial account beneficiary designations.

Fred’s wife had passed away over a decade before, so he had previously updated his paperwork, naming his daughter and grandson as the primary and contingent beneficiaries.

Fred and this trusted advisor discussed if there were any organizations or causes important to Fred that he would wish to help, should he not have any living heirs at the time of his death. As a result, Fred decided to incorporate some charitable gifts to his estate plan.

Tragically, shortly after taking these actions both Fred’s daughter and grandson died.

By revisiting his estate plan and updating it to incorporate charitable gifts, upon his death Fred was able to create a lasting legacy consistent with his wishes.

Among other causes, Fred’s estate funded a scholarship in his wife’s name with a local community foundation, helping future generations of students in the community he loved.

The big picture: August is a great time to ask yourself: what do I want my legacy to be?

EXPLORE: How to Transfer Your Values with Your Wealth

REQUEST: Estate Planning Primer

To book a free consultation call 800-999-2190 or email with the best day and time to reach you.

 Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do each August for #NationalMakeAWill month?

Set a reminder each August for #NationalMakeAWill month to ensure that your estate planning documents are in order and your assets are set to be distributed the way you intend.

It is prudent to periodically:
  1. Revisit designated primary and secondary beneficiaries on any financial accounts and life insurance policies.
  2. Consider assigning a trusted contact with whom your financial institution may share information on a limited basis or contact to help reach you in an emergency.
  3. Update any asset schedules referenced in a will.
  4. Confirm that assets you wish to be held in a trust are titled in the name of the trust to avoid the probate process.

What is a primary beneficiary?

A primary beneficiary has first right of claim to assets held in financial accounts or life insurance proceeds upon your death. You may name one or more primary beneficiaries. Federal law requires that a spouse be the designated beneficiary on retirement accounts, such as 401ks or IRAs, unless the spouse specifically waives this right.

What is a contingent beneficiary or secondary beneficiary?

A contingent beneficiary is a person or organization designated to receive assets should the named primary beneficiary or beneficiaries not be able to receive such assets. The contingent beneficiary, also referred to as a second beneficiary, has a secondary right of claim.

What is a trusted contact on financial accounts?

A trusted contact is generally someone to whom you allow your financial institution to release information. This is typically a family member, attorney or third-party advisor whom you trust to uphold your privacy and with whom you share details about your life, for example, if you are traveling or experiencing a health issue. Designating a trusted contact does not give that person authority to make transactions in your account and does not make that person a power of attorney, legal guardian, trustee or executor.
Assign a Trusted Contact to an AMG Account

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