There are exceptions in estate planning where you could unintentionally leave money to people you no longer intend to, much to the surprise of other heirs.
CNBC’s recent article “Your ex-spouse could inherit your money. How to avoid this and other estate-planning mistakes” says that the only exception where an ex-spouse could perhaps be on the receiving end of your money when you die, is if you neglect to change your beneficiaries under a retirement plan.
State law typically says that when a married couple divorce, the ex-spouses lose all property rights. However, because pensions are governed by federal law, formally known as ERISA or the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, these state rules don’t apply.
As a result, if you don’t update your beneficiary designations, your ex could still inherit the money.
In addition to pensions, people tend to forget to update their IRAs, 401(k)s and life insurance. Bank account beneficiary designations are frequently tough to locate, and circumstances tend to change from when you first set them up.
While it may be tempting to disinherit someone with whom you’ve fallen out, it’s not a great approach. It can even motivate someone to challenge your will. There’s also always the chance that you may reconcile, even on your death bed. However, at that point, it’ll be too late to update your will and estate plan.
Some people may decide to also include friends who feel like family in their wills. They are sometimes called “unnatural bequests” because they don’t include typical beneficiaries, such as a spouse and children. This type of bequest should be prepared by an experienced estate planning attorney with specific language to make it known it wasn’t an accident.
For example, “I leave my dear friend Big Red $1 million, even though that reduces my bequests to my children, because of the wonderful and supportive friendship I have had with Red for more than five decades.”
To make certain that your wishes are carried out the way you want them to be, enlist the help of an experienced estate planning attorney.