Estate Planning Beneficiaries Explained

How you establish beneficiaries in your estate planning is critical to ensuring that your wishes are carried out. The issue of your beneficiaries – like many elements of estate planning – is more complicated than you may realize. Understanding the basics, however, can help you move forward with increased confidence, and an experienced North Carolina estate planning attorney can help you with that.

How Assets Are Typically Transferred

To better understand the assignment of beneficiaries in your estate plan, it’s important to understand how assets are typically transferred upon one’s death. All of the following generally apply:


  • Through Ownership – Any assets that you own jointly with another (including your marital assets) generally go automatically to the other owner upon your death (unless you have another legal plan in place).
  • Through Beneficiary Designation – Certain financial tools, such as IRAs, 401(k) plans, insurance policies, and annuity contracts, designate beneficiaries to whom the assets will pass.
  • Through Your Living Trust – Your assets will be transferred according to the terms laid out in your living trust.
  • Through Your Will – Any assets that have not already been transferred (in one of the actions listed above) will be distributed according to the terms laid out in your will.
  • Via the State – If you don’t have a will, your assets will be distributed in accordance with the State of North Carolina’s considerable discretion.


Coordinating Your Beneficiary Designations Is Critical

While there is likely no question in your mind who your beneficiaries will be, it’s important to recognize that it’s likely more complicated than that. For example, you may have retirement accounts and other financial tools floating around out there with the designated beneficiaries you pencilled in when you started your job or purchased the account. This may have been before you even had kids – or you may have had more children since that time. In other words, housekeeping is important. Further, it isn’t uncommon for divorce spouses to neglect to remove each other from their insurance policies (and more).

This represents just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the designation of your beneficiaries. Complicating issues can include:


  • Divorce
  • Remarriage
  • A significant change in your estate
  • The addition of children to your family (through birth or adoption)
  • The addition of stepchildren to your family


Any one of these events may require you to reassess your designation of beneficiaries to ensure that you are managing your estate in a way that makes sense to you, and that provides for your loved ones in the way you intend.

Reach Out to an Experienced North Carolina Estate Planning Attorney Today

The dedicated estate planning attorneys at King Law Firm in North Carolina understand that estate planning can seem overwhelming, but we’re to help you create an estate plan that puts you in control, and that leaves you confident in the outcome. Planning your estate doesn’t have to be a trial, and our experienced legal team is here to help make the process more accessible. We’re here for you, so please don’t hesitate to contact or call us today.