How Advisors Should Handle the IRA and Retirement Plan Beneficiary Form

retirement-plan-beneficiary-form-trusts-the-roth-revolution-james-langeThe ability to know what to do with an IRA or retirement plan beneficiary form can often be detrimental.

First, know we are on shaky ground. The conservative and proper legal advice is to request the client have their estate attorney fill out the beneficiary designation forms.

There are several advantages of having an estate attorney fill out the forms

  • Eliminates or drastically reduces your exposure for not filling out the form correctly and consistent with the clients’ wishes
  • Presumably, the estate attorney has a “big picture” of how the estate will be distributed and the IRA and retirement plan beneficiary designation is an important piece to that entire puzzle

For most traditional clients, I prefer the plan described in chapter 12 of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006). The chapter, “The Ideal Beneficiary Designation of Your Retirement Plan” describes what I consider the “master plan”.

Assume that you have a traditional family with children and grandchildren or even the potential to have grandchildren in the future. Let’s also assume that your client and their spouses trust each other completely and the client’s children are by now responsible adults (if not, see the discussion about trusts below).

Primary Beneficiary:

My spouse __________________

Contingent beneficiary

My children______________, ___________, and __________equally, per stirpes

Per stirpes is Latin for by representation. Adding per stirpes is critical. Let’s assume one of your client’s children either predeceases your client or your client’s child wants to disclaim a portion of the inherited IRA to their children, i.e. your client’s grandchildren. Without the words per stirpes, (assuming that the form does not have a box to check to indicate a per stirpes designation), the share of the predeceased or disclaiming child would not go to their children, but rather to their siblings, because the majority of beneficiary forms do not assume a per stirpes distribution unless you specifically state per stirpes in the designation. Presumably, most of your clients do not want to disinherit their grandchildren. Without per stirpes, you could have a grandchild that not only lost their parent, but also lost any inheritance they may have used for support, education, etc.

I also recommend putting current addresses and social security numbers on the IRA or retirement plan beneficiary designation.

Please note, however, that even this solution is only a partial and temporary solution. This solution still allows the possibility of having your client’s grandchild (or child if they are young) drinking $1,000 per bottle champagne to celebrate their purchase of a new Hummer on their 21st birthday.

So, to do the job right, you should name a well drafted trust, either a dedicated trust or a trust that is currently part of the client’s will or living trust, for the benefit of grandchildren (or children if client’s children are young and/or not sufficiently mature to handle an inheritance). In addition, you need at least one trust for each set of your client’s children’s children. There are lots of variations on these trusts, but for the IRA beneficiary purposes, they must meet 6 specific conditions in order to preserve the “stretch IRA” for the grandchildren.

Therefore, what will be a combination of practical, yet also proper advice is to fill out the forms the way I have suggested and recommend both orally and in writing that your client see a qualified estate planning attorney to properly fill out the IRA and retirement plan beneficiary forms.

-Jim

Jim Lange, Retirement and Estate Planning A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

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Changing Beneficiary Designations for Retirement Plans: Why A One-size-fits-all Approach is Definitely Not Appropriate

retirement-plans-james-lange-pittsburgh-paI had some reservations about writing Chapter 16. Chapter 15 discusses the perils of filling out your own beneficiary forms, and Chapter 16 talks about filling out beneficiary forms. It sounds counter-intuitive, but there is a method to my madness!

The reason I wrote Chapter 16 was because I thought that my readers probably wouldn’t find it very helpful to have me tell them, “Don’t do the wrong thing!” without also offering a very clear explanation of what the wrong thing is. Some folks might be disappointed that Chapter 16 is not a step-by-step guide about the “right” way to prepare your beneficiary designations. Unfortunately, that would have been an impossible task because it is one area of estate planning where a one-size-fits-all approach is definitely not appropriate. Chapter 16 is intended to offer general guidance only, and I hope you’ll consult with a professional about your own situation.

As it is becoming more common to see trusts as part of estate plans, I thought it would be helpful to go over some of the finer points of naming trusts as beneficiaries of your IRA or retirement plans. Frequently, trusts are used to “protect” assets – whether it be from taxes, creditors, or whatever the case may be. If the beneficiary designations of your trust are not precisely accurate, the trust cannot be funded. That means that the money will stay in the retirement plan, and not go in to the trust. Your heirs can try to explain to the IRS that you made a minor mistake when filling out your beneficiary form, and your intentions were really something other than what you wrote. The cost of asking the IRS to agree to your executor’s interpretation of what a beneficiary designation was supposed to be (also called a private letter ruling) is, as of this writing, about $18,000 – and there’s no guarantee that they’re going to agree with your executor anyway. If they don’t agree, then all of the work you went through to establish the trust was for nothing. So why risk the protection that you had hoped to offer by setting up the trust? Please consider using a competent professional to help you with your beneficiary forms!

Chapter 17 continues this discussion by reviewing the different types of trusts you can use as a beneficiary of your retirement plan. Check back soon!

-Jim

Jim Lange, Retirement and Estate Planning A nationally recognized IRA, Roth IRA conversion, and 401(k) expert, he is a regular speaker to both consumers and professional organizations. Jim is the creator of the Lange Cascading Beneficiary Plan™, a benchmark in retirement planning with the flexibility and control it offers the surviving spouse, and the founder of The Roth IRA Institute, created to train and educate financial advisors.

Jim’s strategies have been endorsed by The Wall Street Journal (33 times), Newsweek, Money Magazine, Smart Money, Reader’s Digest, Bottom Line, and Kiplinger’s. His articles have appeared in Bottom Line, Trusts and Estates Magazine, Financial Planning, The Tax Adviser, Journal of Retirement Planning, and The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine.

Jim is the best-selling author of Retire Secure! (Wiley, 2006 and 2009), endorsed by Charles Schwab, Larry King, Ed Slott, Jane Bryant Quinn, Roger Ibbotson and The Roth Revolution, Pay Taxes Once and Never Again endorsed by Ed Slott, Natalie Choate and Bob Keebler.

If you’d like to be reminded as to when the book is coming out please fill out the form below.

Thank you.

Save