What Are the Drawbacks of Naming Beneficiaries?

Nov 7, 2023Blog

Adult daughter with her arms around her parents’ shouldersAlthough in many situations the advantages outweigh the disadvantages when selecting beneficiaries, there are always exceptions. Below, we explore some of the potential drawbacks of naming beneficiaries in wills and other estate planning documents.

What Is a Beneficiary?

Beneficiaries are individuals you select to receive money, various other assets or specific bequests (such as sentimental items) upon your death. You can name these individuals in estate planning documents such as a will.

Outdated Beneficiary Choices

The most common disadvantage is failing to review beneficiary choices regularly to assess whether they still meet your requirements, or adjust them based on any changes that have occurred in your life.

For example, perhaps you designated your spouse as the primary beneficiary of your retirement accounts and other non-probate assets. However, if you go through a divorce and forget to change these designations, your ex-spouse could still end up with a significant portion of these assets.

Another example may be where new relationships develop that did not exist when you initially made beneficiary designations. For example, you have had more children or remarried. Should you fail to update your estate plan, you may inadvertently omit these loved ones from receiving a share of these assets when you really would have wanted them to receive something.

Failure to Name a Contingent Beneficiary

A related issue is failing to name secondary, or contingent, beneficiaries. What happens if you do not have a “backup” beneficiary? One of the main disadvantages is that an asset that could typically pass directly to persons outside of probate may now become an asset that has to be addressed through the probate process. This can create a long delay before those assets get to your loved ones.

Minor Beneficiaries

Disadvantages can also arise if you name a minor as a beneficiary and that person is still a minor when you die. If this happens, an insurance company or retirement administrator may not have a way to handle the situation. It would be unable to distribute the funds until it receives directions from a court, or the minor reaches the age of majority (age 18 in most states).

Risks for Individuals Who Rely on Government Benefits

If your named beneficiary depends on government benefits at the time of your death, they could lose their benefits because certain public assistance programs require their enrollees to have specific income or asset limits. In these situations, a supplemental needs trust may be a better option. This type of trust allows them to receive the assets without losing their eligibility for these programs. The trust also allows the assets to be used for the benefit of the beneficiary while still preserving the government benefits. Additionally, it can ensure that the assets are managed appropriately and used for the beneficiary’s care.

Other Considerations

Sometimes, naming a beneficiary can convert an asset that was free from the reach of your creditors into an asset that is suddenly available to them. For example, if a person names their estate as a beneficiary of their life insurance policy, not only does this put the asset into the jurisdiction of the probate court, but it also subjects the funds to your creditors and may be used very differently from what you had in mind. The funds may be used to pay off creditors or taxes owed by your estate.

Consult With an Expert

There are other potential downsides to naming beneficiaries to non-probate assets. However, not everyone may be impacted the same way. The best advice is always to seek help from a qualified estate planning attorney prior to making any decisions. Please reach out to schedule an appointment with one of our experienced estate planning attorneys.