When you fill out important forms with your IRA, 401(k) or your life insurance policy, you may be asked to distinguish between a primary and a contingency or secondary beneficiary. Your primary beneficiary is the individual who is first in line to receive any account assets after you pass away.
The secondary or the contingent beneficiary may be eligible to get the remaining account assets so long as there are no other surviving primary beneficiaries when you pass away. If you name your spouse as the primary beneficiary, for example, and your children are listed as secondary beneficiaries, the children will only be entitled to inherit assets if the spouse passes away before you do, or if the spouse does not claim entitlement to those assets. You can designate a charity, trust or another entity as your primary or secondary beneficiary.
You may get divorced or experience other life changes that prompt an update in your primary or secondary beneficiaries. When this happens, make sure you do more than contact your estate planning lawyer. While that’s certainly essential for any documents and plans you already have with your attorney, it’s also important to contact your bank and life insurance policy about any accounts where they maintain separate beneficiary info. This is crucial for updating all your materials and ensuring that if something happens to you that everything is recorded accurately. Otherwise, your wishes may not be carried out.
Make sure that you talk to your estate planning attorney to ensure that your designated trust has all the necessary legal requirements structured if you choose to designate a trust as a beneficiary for your retirement account. You may choose multiple primary and secondary beneficiaries depending on your individual needs. Make sure that you keep these forms updated on a regular basis as life circumstances change.