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What Is a Beneficiary?

Learn what a beneficiary is in this Howcast finance video with expert Gregory McGraime.


Some financial accounts that you may have have what's called a beneficiary attached to them, and what that means for that particular account, if I pass away, that money guarantees to go to the beneficiary that I've listed. And it can be more than one beneficiary if you want. And you can break up the money in different percentages. But what's really important is that money passes, and it bypasses the entire court probate process. Those beneficiary designations also supersede what you say is in your will. Extremely important. So let me give you a few examples. What types of accounts have beneficiaries? Retirement accounts like 401ks or IRAs have beneficiaries. Life insurance has beneficiaries associated with it. Annuities might also have beneficiaries associated with it. And one of the big mistakes people make, they don't realize this, that beneficiary designation supersedes what you say is in your will. So if my will says everything goes to Michelle and my beneficiary of my 401k says the money's going to Jennifer, that money is going to Jennifer in my 401k and the big mistake that people make is they don't keep these beneficiaries up to date. I picked some beneficiaries when I was 22 and starting my job, and you know what? I got married, I got divorced, I had kids, my life situation changed. I've seen situations where someone's money goes to their ex-spouse just because they didn't update the beneficiary. So what you want to do as part of a good estate planning program, go through all the accounts that you have that have beneficiaries associated with them, and make sure all those beneficiaries are up to date.

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