Retirement

Keep track of your beneficiaries

DATE | 07/17/19
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Your beneficiary designations supersede the instructions found in a will or a trust.

While saving as much as you can for retirement is important, it’s just as important to determine the beneficiaries of your account—and keep them up to date.
Naming beneficiaries for your retirement accounts is an important first step in your estate planning. Without careful consideration, your decision may have unexpected tax and estate planning implications.

Naming beneficiaries

There are two basic types of beneficiaries. Primary beneficiaries are entitled to receive any undistributed assets in your account following your death. They share equally in your account unless you specify different percentages. If a beneficiary predeceases you, his or her share of your account is divided proportionately among the surviving beneficiaries.

Contingent beneficiaries are entitled to receive any undistributed assets in your account only if you have no surviving primary beneficiaries at the time of your death. If there are no surviving primary beneficiaries, your contingent beneficiaries share equally in your account unless you specify different percentages.

You may name anyone as a beneficiary of your account. Although spousal beneficiaries have the most flexibility with an inherited retirement account, for many reasons you might find it more appropriate to name someone other than your spouse as your primary or contingent beneficiary. You may also name a trust or charity, as well as other options. However, these options may have different financial consequences. Consult an attorney or tax advisor if you have questions about your beneficiary designations.

Types of accounts

The types of accounts that may require beneficiaries include:

  • Retirement accounts such as a 403(b) and IRA.
  • Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) accounts.
  • Other types of investment accounts, such as Member Benefits’ Personal Investment Account. Life insurance policies and health savings accounts.
  • Some banks will allow you the option of naming a beneficiary on your checking account so that it passes directly to that person.

It’s important to keep your account with Member Benefits up to date as well as any other accounts you may have. When members don’t update their beneficiaries after a major life event and then pass away, those named beneficiaries can no longer be changed. If members have no beneficiaries named on their account, the account will go to their estate. Unfortunately, that can cause many issues and delays in accessing those funds if they are needed.

Be sure to name and update your account beneficiaries on all of your accounts—and make sure they match up with your estate plan as well.