Many people believe that their will dictates who inherits all of their assets at their death and how those beneficiaries will divide those assets up. However, depending upon what you have accumulated, the bulk of your assets could end up being distributed well before anyone has the opportunity even to read your will. How could this happen?
Beneficiary designations take precedent over what your will states! Life insurance policies, certain investment accounts (including your account in the Ministers’ Retirement Plan), and even US savings bonds have beneficiary designations. So upon your death, your account at the Benefits Board, for example, immediately transfers into the name of your beneficiary or beneficiaries. No will is needed and probate is not necessary.
Because so many accounts are “beneficiary designated,” it is very important that you keep your records updated with the holder of your accounts. While you might get upset with a beneficiary and write them out of your will, they may still end up claiming a bulk of your assets if you do not also change your beneficiary-designated accounts.
Further, many beneficiary-designated accounts (including the Ministers’ Retirement Plan) require that your spouse be designated as the primary beneficiary. Unless a valid spousal waiver is filed with the custodian of your beneficiary-designated account, the law requires in those circumstances that the account pass to your spouse, even if your will or prenuptial agreement says otherwise.
A great web site to learn more about wills and estate issues is www.nolo.com. However, nothing takes the place of a consultation with a lawyer that deals with wills and estates on a continuing basis. The time and the money you spend now to get all your estate issues addressed will be well worth it in the future. As you have heard, where there is a will, there is a relative. I would add that where there is no will, there are many relatives.