Mature couple with laptop

If your beneficiaries are out-of-date, when you die, your assets could go [to] the wrong people – a former spouse, for example – no matter what your will says.

Often, the biggest mistakes we can make when it comes to our estate planning are also some of the easiest to prevent. For example, the consequences of failing to update your beneficiary designations can be catastrophic, while the “fix” is as easy as a phone call or completing a paper (or online) form.

A recent Forbes article titled “The Big Estate-Planning Goof You May Be Making” puts the importance of proper beneficiary designations in perspective.

With the New Year upon us and our resolutions still holding up (or newly renewed?), this may be a good time to review the beneficiary designations we have made for our assets. You see, beneficiary designations are a peculiar thing. They carry with them very important powers for good or ill.

Many accounts from IRAs to policies of one type or another offer the chance to name a beneficiary. Ultimately, the beneficiary will automatically assume ownership of the account upon your passing. That is powerful.

For starters, assets that pass by beneficiary designation escape probate. For a basic tutorial on the distinction between probate and non-probate assets, click here for a good, general explanation from

So, what happens when your life changes and someone named as beneficiary a good long time ago is simply no longer appropriate (read: the ex-spouse, or other horror-story staples)? Well, they still get it.

Bottom line: begin the New Year right with a review of your current estate plan and beneficiary designations. Make sure they are consistent and not in conflict with your wishes.

Reference: Forbes (December 16, 2013) “The Big Estate-Planning Goof You May Be Making

Mr. Amoruso concentrates his practice on Elder Law, Comprehensive Estate Planning, Asset Preservation, Estate Administration and Guardianship.