For many people, naming beneficiaries occurs when they first set up an account, and it’s rarely given much thought after that. Reviewing beneficiary designations is a good idea and should be done periodically. The Street’s recent article entitled “Secure your IRA – Review Your Beneficiary Forms Now” says that many account holders aren’t aware of how important the beneficiary document is or what the consequences would be if the information is incorrect or is misplaced. Many people are also surprised to hear that wills don’t cover these accounts because they pass outside the will and are distributed pursuant to the beneficiary designation form.
If one of these accounts does not have a designated beneficiary, it may be paid to your estate. If so, the IRS says that the account has to be fully distributed within five years if the account owner passes before their required beginning date (April 1 of the year after they turn age 72). This may create a massive tax bill for your heirs.
Get a copy of your listed beneficiaries from every institution where you have your accounts, and don’t assume they have the correct information. Review the forms and make sure all beneficiaries are named and designated not just the primary beneficiary but secondary or contingent beneficiary. It is also important tomake certain that the form states clearly their percentage of the share and that it adds up to 100%. You should review these forms at any life change, like a marriage, divorce, birth or adoption of a child, or the death of a loved one.
Note that the SECURE Act changed the rules for anyone who dies after 2019. If you don’t heed these changes, it could result in 87% of your hard-earned money to go towards taxes. For retirement accounts that are inherited after December 31, 2019, there are new rules that necessitate review of beneficiary designations:
- The new law created multiple “classes” of beneficiaries, and each has its own set of complex distribution rules. Make sure you understand the definition of each class of beneficiary and the effect the new rules will have on your family.
- Some trusts that were named as beneficiaries of IRAs or retirement plans will no longer serve their original purpose. Ask an experienced estate planning attorney to review this.
- The stretch IRA has been eliminated for most non-spouse beneficiaries. As such, most non-spouse beneficiaries will need to “empty” the IRA or retirement account within 10 years and they can’t “stretch” out their distributions over their lifetimes. Failure to comply is a 50% penalty of the amount not distributed and taxes due.
For many, the beneficiary form is their most important estate planning document but the most overlooked.
Reference: The Street (Dec. 28, 2020) “Secure your IRA – Review Your Beneficiary Forms Now”