When was the last time you checked the beneficiary designations on your retirement plans? It is an important — but often overlooked or forgotten — aspect of wealth transfer.
Many investors have taken advantage of pretax contributions to their company’s employer-sponsored retirement plan and/or make annual contributions to an IRA. If you participate in a qualified plan program, but you have not named beneficiaries for your account, you may be overlooking an important housekeeping issue.
An improper designation could make life difficult for your family in the event of your untimely death by putting assets out of reach of those you had hoped to provide for and possibly increasing their tax burdens. Further, if you have switched jobs, become a new parent, been divorced, or survived a spouse or even a child, your current beneficiary designations may need to be updated.
Consider the “What Ifs”
In the heat of divorce proceedings, for example, the task of revising one’s beneficiary designations has been known to fall through the cracks. While a court decree that ends a marriage does terminate the provisions of a will that would otherwise leave estate proceeds to a now-former spouse, it does not automatically revise that former spouse’s beneficiary status on separate documents such as employer-sponsored retirement accounts and IRAs.
Many IRA owners may not be aware that after their death, the primary beneficiary — usually the surviving spouse — may have the right to transfer part or all of the IRA assets into another account. Take the case of the IRA owner who has children from a previous marriage. If, after the owner’s death, the surviving spouse moved those assets into his or her own IRA and named his or her biological children as beneficiaries, the original IRA owner’s children could legally be shut out of any benefits.
Also keep in mind that the law requires that a spouse be the primary beneficiary of a 401(k) or a profit-sharing account unless he/she waives that right in writing. A waiver may make sense in a second marriage — if a new spouse is already financially set or if children from a first marriage are more likely to need the money. Single people can name whomever they choose. And non-spouse beneficiaries are now eligible for a tax-free transfer to an IRA.
The IRS has also issued regulations that dramatically simplify the way certain distributions affect IRA owners and their beneficiaries. Consult your CPA or Certified Financial Planner™ on how these rule changes may affect your situation.
To Simplify, Consolidate
In today’s workplace, it is not uncommon to switch employers every few years. If you have changed jobs and left your assets in your former employers’ plans, you may want to consider moving these assets into a rollover IRA. Done correctly, there is no tax consequence for doing a rollover, but there can be several advantages. Consolidating multiple retirement plans into a single tax-advantaged account can make it easier to track your investment performance and streamline your records, including beneficiary designations.
Review Your Current Situation
If you are currently contributing to an employer-sponsored retirement plan and/or an IRA contact your benefits administrator — or, in the case of an IRA, the financial institution — and request to review your current beneficiary designations. You may want to do this with the help of your Certified Financial Planner™ or CPA to ensure that these documents are in sync with other aspects of your estate plan.
Ask your financial professional about the proper use of such designations as “per stirpes” and “per capita” as well as about the proper use of trusts to achieve certain estate planning goals. Your planning professional can help you focus on many important issues, including percentage breakdowns, especially when minor children and those with special needs are involved.
Finally, be sure to keep copies of all your designation forms in a safe place and let family members know where they can be found.
This communication is not intended to be tax or legal advice and should not be treated as such. Each individual’s situation is different. You should contact your tax or legal professional to discuss your personal situation.
The opinions expressed above are solely those of Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc. (626-449-7783, [email protected]), a Registered Investment Advisor in the state of California. Neither Kondo Wealth Advisors, Inc. nor its representatives provide legal, tax or accounting advice.