Creating a will is a great way to ensure assets and treasures, be they few or many, end up where we want them to—with designated loved ones, friends or charities. Be careful though: what if something happens to your designated beneficiaries? Attorneys advise that it’s best not to stop with naming beneficiaries—make a contingency plan too.
For many of us, an enduring lesson from 2020 is that the unexpected can strike at any time—truly. With that in mind, when creating an estate plan it’s useful to consider “contingent beneficiaries.” As attorneys at Cushing and Dolan explain: “Also known as secondary beneficiaries, contingent beneficiaries are persons or entities that will receive an asset in your will should something prevent the primary beneficiary from receiving them. Most experts recommend naming two contingent beneficiaries at the minimum as a failsafe.” Though it is hard to think about, there are many things that can get in the way of a “primary” beneficiary receiving intended gifts. In addition to the worst case scenario, death, attorneys remind us that these types of scenarios can happen too:
Business closure: If your primary beneficiary is a charity or a non-profit, their business closure prevents employees from receiving your assets.
Inability to locate: You can name a long-lost relative as a primary beneficiary, but if they cannot be found or contacted, they’ll be unable to claim any assets they’re entitled to.
Disclaiming: Primary beneficiaries can decline or “disclaim” the asset from your estate. But if they disclaim the assets, they can’t choose who would receive the properties.
What happens if a primary beneficiary can’t claim an asset?
If a primary beneficiary can’t claim an asset from your estate and no contingent beneficiaries are named, the properties go back into your general estate and enter probate. Anyone looking to claim the assets must go through a lengthy and costly probate court process.
Attorneys further advice that in addition to taking care with the designation of beneficiaries, it is also important to be thoughtful about naming an executor to oversee the administration of your will and other affairs upon your death. When time is on your side, it’s best to prepare your executor and provide them with information about your intentions, contacts, accounts, passwords and so on. Ultimately, though the process differs a little bit in each state, when the time comes, the executor will file the original copy of the will in probate court and receive a letter of testamentary. This officially recognizes the executor and enables action to begin on settling the estate.
Though beneficiaries may be eager to receive the assets designated for them, it is important to know that executors have a legal duty to ensure compliance with applicable laws and adhere to the local probate process. Frequently, executors are required to obtain an estate or executor bond. Essentially, the bond guarantees the executor will carry out their duties in accordance with the law. Colonial Surety is here to help executors in any state quickly obtain their required bonds—and avoid probate delays. At Colonial, the steps to obtaining executor and other bonds are quick and easy: get a quote online, fill out the information, and enter the payment method. Instantly print or e-file the bond right from anywhere—even probate court. Obtain an Executor Bond Here.
Good To Know—and Do
Unless the affairs of the decease are complicated, the probate process commonly takes a few months to a year. Many states have developed expedited processes, especially for modest estates. Unpaid taxes, debts, conflicts among family members or contested wills are examples of what can cause complexities and delays during probate. Since no one plans to leave families and friends with extra stress during their grief, Cushing and Dolan remind us to be as proactive as possible in organizing our affairs: “Estate planning is complex, and even the slightest technical mistakes, like not naming contingent beneficiaries, can lead to costly errors. An experienced attorney on your side, however, can mean the difference between an efficient process and one complicated by family squabbles and legal battles. Take steps now to ensure your surviving loved ones can avoid unnecessary disputes after your passing.”
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Founded in 1930, Colonial Surety Company is a direct writer of surety bonds and insurance products. Colonial is rated “A Excellent” by A.M. Best Company, U.S. Treasury listed, and licensed for business everywhere in the USA.