Ignore beneficiary forms at your and your heirs’ own peril, especially when there are minor children, is the message from TAPintoChatham.com’s recent article “Are You Read to Deal with Your Beneficiary Forms?” The knee-jerk reaction is to name the spouse as a primary beneficiary and then name the minor children as contingent beneficiaries. However, this is not always the best way to deal with retirement assets.
Remember that retirement assets are different from taxable accounts. When distributions are made from retirement accounts, they are treated as Ordinary Income (OI) and are subject to the OI tax rate. Retirement plans have beneficiary forms, which overrule whatever your will documents may state. Because they have beneficiary forms, these accounts pass outside of your estate and are governed by their own rules and regulations.
Here are a few options for beneficiary designations when there are minors:
Name your spouse as the primary beneficiary and minor children as the contingent beneficiaries. This is the usual response (see above), but there is a problem. If the minor children inherit a retirement asset, they will need a guardian of the estate for that asset. The guardian of the estate named for their care and well-being in the will does not apply, because this asset passes outside of the estate. Therefore, the court may appoint a Guardian of The Estate to represent the child’s interest for this asset. That could be a paid stranger appointed by the court, until the child reaches the age of majority, usually 18 in most states. It’s also not always good for the child to have the money when he or she attains age 18.
Elect a guardian in the retirement plan beneficiary form. Some custodians have a section of their beneficiary form to choose a guardian for minor. Most forms, unfortunately, do not provide this option.
Make your trust the contingent beneficiary of the retirement account. While this may solve the problem of not having a guardian for the minor children, because it would kick the retirement plan into the trust estate, it may lead to adverse tax consequences. A trust does not have a measuring life, so the retirement asset would need to be fully distributed in five years.
Leave the assets to the minor children in a trust. This is the most effective means of leaving retirement assets to minor children without terrible tax consequences or needing to have the court appoint a stranger to oversee the child’s funds. Your attorney would either create a separate trust for the minor child or build a conduit trust under your will or a revocable trust to hold this specific asset. You would then change your beneficiary form to make said trust or sub-trusts for each minor child the contingent beneficiary of your retirement plan. This way you control who the guardian is for this asset for your minor child and are tax efficient.
Whichever way you decide to go, speak with an experienced estate planning attorney to determine which is the best plan for your family. Call our office today to schedule a review of your existing plan or create a new and determine how your retirement plans best fit into your plan.
Reference: TAPintoChatham.com (Sep. 8, 2109) “Are You Read to Deal with Your Beneficiary Forms?”