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Investing Specialists

Do's and Don'ts for Beneficiary Designations

What you need to know about IRAs and 401(k)s, taxable brokerage accounts, bank accounts, and more.

We pay good money to estate-planning attorneys to draft trusts and wills. We deliberate over which loved ones are best suited to be guardians for minor children in case of catastrophe. We have heart-to-hearts with our loved ones--though probably not as much as we should--about our attitudes toward nursing homes and end-of-life care.

At the same time, many of us approach beneficiary designations with barely a thought. We often make our choices as we're contending with a pile of other paperwork when we start new jobs and have a lot of other important decisions to make, like which healthcare plan to choose or how to allocate the 401(k). And because beneficiary designations don't pop up on our screens when we check up on our portfolios or receive statements, we may not revisit them for years.