When Selecting Beneficiaries Gets Overlooked

Here’s one way to mess up your estate plan: naming beneficiaries not by name, but by the generic term “children.” If yours is a blended family, your stepchildren may be out of luck, according to the article “Five mistakes to avoid when naming beneficiaries” from Delco Times. In many states, stepchildren aren’t recognized if the word “children” is used. Use your beneficiaries’ full names.

Here are more mistakes that people make about beneficiaries:

Failing to name a beneficiary on every account. The great thing about beneficiary designations as that they do not go through probate and beneficiaries receive assets directly from the custodian of the account. However, if you fail to name a beneficiary, the asset, whether life insurance proceeds or the entire balance of a 401(k) account will go to your estate, and then it will need to go through probate.  For retirement accounts, your heirs will also lose the ability to stretch withdrawals over their lifetime.

Failing to name a contingency beneficiary. What if the first person passes away before you and there’s no contingency beneficiary named? The asset goes through probate, as if there were no beneficiary named at all.  If both people die at the same time, all of the funds must go through probate.

Neglecting to review beneficiary selections on a regular basis. Beneficiary designations override a will, so it’s very important to keep them current. Every few years, review the accounts that you own and see what your beneficiary designation choices are. This is especially necessary, if you have been divorced, widowed or remarried. If you fail to take your ex-spouse off an insurance policy, for instance, there’s little that can be done when you die—even if you put your wishes that a new spouse or children receive the proceeds in your will. If the dispute goes to court, your new spouse or children won’t be likely to win, no matter what your intentions may have been.

Not communicating with your partner and family members. Talking with family members and loved ones about your wishes for your legacy and asset distribution is an important way to let them know what to expect when you die. It’s not an easy conversation, but it will be helpful to all. Knowing you have a plan will alleviate them from the worry of the unknown. There’s no need to talk specific dollar amounts, unless you want to. Instead, give them a high-level overview of what your intentions are.

Some families find these conversations easier in the presence of an objective third party, like your estate planning attorney. If your estate plan includes trusts or any complex planning strategies, a family meeting provides a means of explaining the plan and the processes involved.

Reference: Delco Times (October 6, 2019) “Five mistakes to avoid when naming beneficiaries”

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I Want to Make a Generous Gift but the Taxes?

That’s the short answer to the question, which is often asked in a roundabout manner: “How much am I allowed to gift?” There are more details in the complete answer, as reported in The Mercury’s article, “Can I gift more than $15,000?” You can gift as much as you wish, to whomever you wish, but you do have to know the tax implications.

A total of $10,000 used to be the annual exclusionary gift amount, which is now $15,000. However, that figure has less significance than it used to have.

In 2019, the annual exclusionary gift limit is $15,000. If you give away up to but no more than $15,000 in a calendar year to one or more individuals, whether that gift is in cash or any property of value, you don’t have to file the federal tax form, known as Form 709. If you gift more than that amount, you need to file that form.

However, the taxpayer for a gift tax form is the person who gives the gift, and not the person receiving the gift.

If you gift more than $15,000, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to pay a Federal gift tax. It’s actually unlikely, even if you have to file the form.

Here’s another point: it’s actually pretty easy to give away more than $15,000 and not have to exceed the annual exclusionary amount, and even technically being required to file a Form 709. How is that possible?

You are permitted to gift an unlimited amount to your spouse, as long as your spouse is an American citizen. The rules are different for non-citizens.

If you are married and want to help out a child who is also married with children, you and your spouse may gift $15,000 each to your son (there’s $30,000) and also to your son’s spouse (another $30,000) and to each of your son’s children, however many grandchildren you may have. If you want to compound your gifting, you can make that same gift every year.

The federal estate and gift tax are “unified.” This allows you to give away any property above the annual exclusionary gift amount or for your heirs to inherit a total of $11.4 million currently, without paying gift or estate taxes. Unless your combined lifetime estate giveaways are subject to gift tax and your estate on death is valued at more than $11.4 million, there’s no need to worry about that gift tax.

There are other ways to be generous. If you pay for someone else’s medical care (and pay directly to the medical care provider, not to the person), or for someone else’s college tuition (pay directly to the college and not to the person), you can give an unlimited amount to that person, without having to file a gift tax form or making a gift tax payment.

Charitable gifts are also except from the reporting requirement, providing that no interest in the gifted assets is retained by the person gifting.

There are several reasons why you might want to file a gift tax return. One might be to keep track of the value of the gift at the time it was given. If the asset has increased in value since the purchase, both you and the party receiving it may need to track its value, as of the date of the gift. This is the concept known as basis. If the person sells the gift, this will be necessary to determine federal taxes regarding profit or losses.

An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to help determine how gifting can fit in with your overall estate plan. Every situation is unique, and you want to be sure that your gifting strategy fits in with creating a legacy and tax planning.

Reference: The Mercury (June 26, 2019) “Can I gift more than $15,000?”