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3 common disputes over beneficiary designations

On Behalf of | Jan 11, 2024 | Estate Planning |

Beneficiary designations are crucial in determining who inherits an estate owner’s assets upon death. It ensures that their retirement accounts, insurance policies and similar assets are distributed according to their wishes.

Accordingly, clearly specifying beneficiaries is important to avoid confusion and potential disputes among survivors. Otherwise, it can lead to challenges in beneficiary designations, such as the following:

Vague beneficiary instructions

Ambiguous instructions can lead to complications during asset distribution. When designations are vague, such as referring to beneficiaries as “my children” without specifying names, it leaves room for multiple interpretations.

Additionally, disputes can arise about the intended recipient if a document identifies a beneficiary only by a relationship or a nickname that could apply to more than one person.

Failure to update beneficiary designations

Outdated beneficiary designations can result in an asset distribution that no longer aligns with the estate owner’s current or latest intentions. Changes in circumstances, such as divorce or remarriage, often require updates to reflect the owner’s latest wishes. Without these updates, ex-spouses could inadvertently receive benefits meant for current partners or new children might not receive anything at all due to unintentional omission.

Hierarchy conflicts between beneficiaries

Disputes between multiple beneficiaries can stem from misunderstandings about the order of precedence. Primary beneficiaries are first in line to receive assets, but if they pass away before the estate owner does, contingent beneficiaries may inherit instead. Without clear communication of the owner’s intentions, conflicts among potential heirs may arise.

These issues can delay an estate’s administration and result in additional costs. Nonetheless, you can avoid them by meticulously preparing your estate plan and regularly updating your documents. This way, you can ensure they accurately reflect your current life situation and wishes.