People put a lot of thought into their Wills and Trusts – particularly the part about who will get what after they die. Specific gifts are carefully drafted, percentages are tweaked, and special needs beneficiaries are addressed using special documents.


But there may be other assets that slip through the cracks of this careful planning.  As part of the estate planning process, all beneficiary designations should be reviewed, and copies placed into the estate planning binder. Any asset that has a beneficiary designation will go to the person listed – regardless of the direction in the Will or Trust. Since this designation pulls the asset out of the control of a Will, it is called a “non-probate” asset.

In Massachusetts, there are several statutes that specifically deal with non-probate transfers. M.G.L. ch. 190B, sec. 6-101 states that the asset “must be paid” to the person designated.

M.G.L. ch. 190B, sec. 6-309 deals with “Transfer on Death” designations, and states that the Transfer on Death designation will be followed because it is a “contract” between the owner and the company. Because another document is controlling the distribution of the account – not the Will – it is a non-probate transfer. Any contradictory terms in a Will or Trust are ignored.

So, even though you may have spent hours planning the distribution of your PROBATE estate, make sure you also check your beneficiary designations regularly. Keep copies of the current designations with your other estate planning documents so the Personal Representative can notify the beneficiary.

Additional Information:

Supreme Court Favors Ex-Wife Over Widow In Battle For Life Insurance Proceeds (Forbes)

Joint Ownership Is Not An Estate Plan

Estate Planning With An IRA


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