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There are many things you may need to learn if you are looking to start creating an effective estate plan. This will include aspects related to how to distribute your assets once you have passed away. You will also need to choose your preferred beneficiaries to your estate. 

What is a beneficiary? 

Any person who will receive material benefits from the administration of your estate after you are gone is known as a beneficiary. These material benefits may include money, a stock portfolio, real estate, or any other type of asset you pass to your intended beneficiaries. Your beneficiaries can also be referred to as your heirs. 

Where are your beneficiaries named? 

In the context of an estate plan, you will name your beneficiaries in various accounts and documents. These include, but are not limited to, your will, trusts and life insurance policies. You will have to make sure you properly draft the relevant legal documents and make necessary changes to your various accounts to ensure your intended beneficiaries will receive your assets. Retirement plans, such as your 401(k), 403(b) or IRA will also list beneficiaries. Additionally, you will be able to name beneficiaries for your checking and savings accounts. 

Primary beneficiaries 

An individual or organization that is named as the first in line to receive benefits from asset distribution is known as a primary beneficiary. You will usually name your primary beneficiaries in your will or trust. However, primary beneficiaries can also be named in your various accounts or policies. 

Contingent beneficiaries 

In the case of a primary beneficiary passing away before you do, your assets will go to your contingent beneficiaries. These individuals can be named in your will or trust, just like your primary beneficiaries. 

Selecting your beneficiaries 

There are many factors to consider when looking to choose who to name as your beneficiaries. Your relationship to your potential beneficiaries will likely make a big difference in determining which assets to leave to who. 

It may be helpful to prioritize based on the nature of your relationships with your potential heirs. You may want to prioritize any individuals who may be dependent upon your financial support. This can include children, elderly parents, a widow or some other loved one who needs your help to stay afloat. 

It will also be a good idea to take into consideration your potential beneficiary’s maturity, sense of responsibility and life experiences. For example, it may not be a good idea to leave your small business in the hands of your young nephew who does not have much business or life experience under his belt. It may be a better idea to leave him an education fund instead. 

Complete your estate plan 

Choosing your beneficiaries and which assets to leave each beneficiary is only a part of the estate planning process. You will also want to make sure to plan for your own retirement and plan to manage your assets in a way that will last you through your golden years. Also, you will want to take tax liabilities into consideration which can save your heirs significant money. Having a comprehensive estate plan can prevent having to go to probate and can keep your beneficiaries from plenty of headaches.


Raymond James and its advisors do not offer tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.