Estate Planning Attorney, J. Kenneth Harris, Poses the Question, To Be a Beneficiary, or Not to Be a Beneficiary

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As September is National Preparedness Month, attorney J. Kenneth Harris, who focuses on probate and estate planning, discusses being prepared to choose and/or change beneficiaries, while keeping beneficiary designations updated.

J. Kenneth Harris

In the estate planning arena, a beneficiary is someone who receives distributions from a will, a trust, a retirement account, a bank account or a life insurance policy. However, sometimes, for whatever reason, the beneficiary needs to be changed.

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Preparation is key and taking time to get one’s affairs in order, such as during this month of preparedness, will ensure that one’s assets will be distributed appropriately, when the inevitable happens. “The primary goal of estate planning is to have control over how your assets are distributed when you pass away,” said Harris. “In the estate planning arena, a beneficiary is someone who receives distributions from a will, a trust, a retirement account, a bank account or a life insurance policy. However, sometimes, for whatever reason, the beneficiary needs to be changed.”

After people designate a beneficiary, it is common for them to file away their estate planning documents. Oftentimes, they will forget all about them as well as whom the beneficiary is, whether for a life insurance policy, bank account, etc.

“If you check your filed-away documents today, you might actually be surprised who you named your beneficiary,” said Harris. “This is especially true if you later had children, got a divorce, remarried, the beneficiary has since passed on, etc.”

Harris further states that although most people check their wills on a yearly basis, a lot of folks forget to check the beneficiary designations on their bank accounts, life insurance policies and retirement accounts. Because retirement accounts pass outside of probate, they are generally not governed by the provisions in a person’s will, so it is imperative to keep all accounts with beneficiary designations updated.

“Across the nation there have been countless cases where retirement account owners, in particular those who have divorced and remarried, neglected to update their beneficiary designation accordingly,” said Harris. “This can be extremely frustrating for the survivors who must endure a court battle for the legal determination of the true beneficiary, and sometimes the court’s decision does not reflect what the deceased would have wanted.”

Harris, who for five years, has had a BV Distinguished Rating from Martindale-Hubbell , which equates to "Very High Peer Review Rating in Legal Ability & Ethical Standards" and is a Superb Rated Attorney from AVVO, suggests people update their beneficiary designations when they get a divorce, remarry, after a birth in the family, after a death in the family, if there is a falling out with a close family member such as a child, a sibling or a grandchild, or when there is a major change in someone’s personal circumstances or finances.

“Whenever you are looking to change a beneficiary designation, I highly recommend that you discuss such changes with a qualified professional,” said Harris. “Like the theme of this year’s National Preparedness Month says, ‘Don’t wait, communicate.’”

About J. Kenneth Harris, Harris Law Offices
J. Kenneth Harris, founder of Harris Law Offices, which has been in business for more than 20 years, handles a variety of probate and estate planning matters, including probate administration, wills, trusts, living revocable trusts, charitable planning and retirement plan distribution. He also represents clients in other legal matters such as commercial law, transactional law and real estate. For more information or a free consultation, please call (856) 310-9500. The office is located at 2 White Horse Pike, Haddon Heights, NJ 08035.

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