QUESTION: What is ONE simple action everyone should take regarding Estate Planning?

ANSWER:  One simple action that EVERYONE should take regarding Estate Planning is to Check Their Beneficiary Designations.

Many people fail to change the beneficiaries named in their IRA or retirement plans. If you have been divorced and especially if you’ve remarried, don’t give your ex your hard-earned retirement savings. Make sure the beneficiaries on your retirement accounts are up-to-date.

If you’re married, you’ll want to designate your spouse as the primary beneficiary. Federal law requires your surviving spouse to be the primary beneficiary in employer-sponsored retirement plans, like a 401(k), unless your spouse signs a written waiver letting you name someone else as the primary beneficiary. In most cases, spouses will name each other as the primary beneficiaries to their retirement plans. Those funds help maintain the lifestyle they’ve enjoyed in the marriage.

The big tax advantage of doing this is that a spouse can transfer the IRA or plan into his or her name without have to pay any taxes, which will further maintain the plan’s tax deferral status.

Retirement assets that pass between husband and wife at death don’t create a taxable event. So the surviving spouse as the beneficiary is free to use the inherited funds as they want after their spouse’s death. Be aware that your spouse might remarry and thereafter name a new spouse as the primary beneficiary instead of your children.

Unfortunately, many folks think that designating their estate or trust beneficiary of their retirement plans is enough to be safe. Not so. If the estate is the beneficiary, you can set up an expensive legal mess for the people you really intend to be the beneficiaries.

Don’t let a judge make the decision. If you are set on having a trust as a beneficiary, make sure that you speak with your estate planning attorney to be certain that the language in the trust will provide your heirs with the benefits legally available.

For more information contact Kathy Tatone, Your Family Guardian Law Firm, 612-604-5146, 4500 Park Glen Road, Suite 220, St. Louis Park, Minnesota 55416.