Do you have a recipient in mind for the proceeds of your life insurance policy?
Many people have someone in mind before they purchase their policy. This person or entity can be named as your beneficiary. Naming your life insurance beneficiary helps to ensure that the party you choose gets the proceeds of your life insurance policy, even if your will leaves your estate to someone else. If you’ve decided that you want to provide for a special person or organization through your life insurance policy, it’s important that the beneficiary section will do what you expect.
Here are some simple tips that can help point you in the right direction:
Choosing Your Life Insurance Beneficiary
Who you name as your beneficiary is a deeply personal decision, and there’s no right or wrong answer. Here are some areas to consider:
- Family: Spouses, children, siblings, and parents are all very common choices as life insurance beneficiaries. However, children under the age of 18 are a special case. Life insurance companies won’t pay a death benefit to a minor, so you may want to set up a trust or choose a responsible adult whom you trust with the welfare of your child.
- Legal guardian: If your life insurance policy does name a minor as your beneficiary, your insurer may require that you designate a legal guardian.
- Estate: Your estate can also be the beneficiary of a life insurance policy. The proceeds of your life insurance policy would be paid to the executor of your estate. Choosing your estate as a beneficiary also requires that you’ve drafted a last will and testament and that you haven’t named a specific person as a beneficiary on your policy. There may also be tax ramifications and other considerations that can affect this choice, so talk this one over with an expert first.
- Trusts: You can name a trust as your life insurance beneficiary. However, the trust must exist before the policy goes into force.
- Charity: Charities can absolutely be named as life insurance beneficiaries.
- Business / Key Person Life Insurance: In business partnerships, other partners can be a named beneficiary. Businesses also sometimes insure the life of a key employee with the business as the beneficiary.
- Friends, etc: You can also name a friend as a beneficiary – assuming your friend isn’t a minor.
Note: Contrary to popular belief, you can’t name a pet as your beneficiary — but you can name someone you’d trust to care for your pet. (Sorry, Fluffy.)
Multiple Beneficiaries and Contingent Beneficiaries
You can name multiple beneficiaries for your life insurance policy, but when doing this, it’s better to use percentages rather than fixed dollar amounts. For permanent life insurance policies, like whole life insurance and universal life insurance, the death benefit payout amount can change over time, making percentages a better strategy for multiple beneficiaries.
You can also name contingent beneficiaries. Think of a contingent beneficiary as a back-up beneficiary. In the event that your primary beneficiary passes before you do (or at the same time), the proceeds of your policy would then go to the contingent beneficiary.
Avoid using general designations, such as “spouse” or “children” as your beneficiary. Spouses can change, as divorce statistics remind us, and you never know which long-lost “children” might appear if there’s a chance of a payday from your life insurance policy. In the very best case, general designations will cause delays in payment to your intended beneficiaries.
Choosing a life insurance beneficiary isn’t necessarily complicated, but there’s some room for error in certain situations. While the decision is always yours to make, it’s best to discuss your options with your financial professional to help make sure the settlement goes smoothly and your wishes are honored.