Americans reportedly hold more than $9 trillion in retirement savings accounts.
If you’re like most Americans, your retirement accounts, such as IRAs and 401(k)s, together with your family home, are your principal source of wealth. But if you die prior to exhausting your retirement savings, who will receive the remaining balance in those accounts?
Many people think that their will or trust documents control the distribution of their retirement assets after they are gone. In fact, the person who gets your unspent retirement savings is determined by a one-page, fill-in-the-blanks beneficiary designation form that you completed when you opened the account.
At the time you filled out those critical beneficiary designation forms, you were probably focused on starting a new job or beginning to save for retirement, without estate planning in mind. Those beneficiary designations often trump express provisions in your will, trust instrument, prenuptial agreement or divorce decree.
Worse, you may have neglected to change the beneficiary designations to take account of changed life circumstances, like marriage, divorce or the birth of a child. As a result, your retirement assets may pass to a beneficiary you would not have chosen later in life.
Now is a good time to review the beneficiary designations on all your retirement accounts, life insurance policies, etc., to be sure they conform to your current intentions for distribution of your hard-earned wealth.