By Elizabeth A. Caruso, Esq.
Myth or Fact? Your Will overrides beneficiary designations on your accounts.
This is a MYTH!
Your Last Will and Testament tells the Probate Court how you want the assets that are in your name alone when you pass away. I cannot put enough emphasis on the fact that this is only the assets that are in your name alone when you pass away. This means that assets that are held jointly with a spouse, child, parent, etc., automatically pass to the other joint owner outside of your Will. Additionally, assets that have beneficiary designations, like life insurance and retirement accounts, pass automatically to the named beneficiary by operation of law.
Many people believe that if they execute a Will that changes the beneficiary designations in a life insurance policy or retirement account that the Will will override their designations and distribute the assets to the people named in their Will. This is absolutely not true. Changing beneficiary designations in your Will does not accomplish anything. You must proactively contact the financial institution that holds the policy/account in order to change the beneficiary.
Some people use beneficiary designations to distribute assets differently than what is in their Will or Trust, which can be a great estate planning tool. An elder law attorney can review your assets with you, talk about your goals for the distribution of your estate, and advise you of your options for achieving those goals, whether it is through beneficiary designations, joint property ownership, your Will, or a Trust.
Elizabeth A. Caruso, Esq. is an attorney at Legacy Legal Planning, LLC, in Norwell, Massachusetts. She has been practicing estate planning, probate, and elder law on the South Shore for over a decade. If this article has sparked questions for you, please feel free to reach out via phone 781-971-5900 or email email@example.com to schedule a time to discuss your unique situation.