Avoiding Probate: The Virtues and Limitations of Beneficiary Designations

In seeking to avoid probate, the use of beneficiary designations to “automatically” transfer accounts or other assets to an intended beneficiary can be a simple and useful approach. This is often an effective approach and is always a low-cost approach. These sorts of designations are most commonly used in connection with retirement accounts, other bank accounts, insurance policies and even interests in small companies. However, in many instances, simply utilizing beneficiary designations is not adequate to put into place desired planning and to assure the intended outcomes. Beneficiary designations often do not contemplate many unexpected scenarios, provide clarity with respect to heirs nor allow for any direction or limitations as to the use of assets. Frequently, a trust can be used to better address these many situations. However, even when a more comprehensive trust-oriented plan is in place, beneficiary designations can be used effectively to direct certain assets seamlessly into the trust. Ultimately, every individual and family situation is unique and requires careful consideration and use of all available estate planning tools.