Choosing Life Insurance Beneficiaries

Nobody likes to think of dying, but as it is a fact of life it must be given consideration at some stage in your life. Normally people will start to think about things like life Insurance when they start families, relationships, or enter into agreements where security in the event of their death is required.

When looking into life insurance and signing up for a policy certain things must be taken into account.

Who are the beneficiaries going to be is an important one. Does any money paid out go automatically to your spouse, children or bank? If you are in a stable relationship, but not officially married, does your partner automatically receive payment or do you have to specify this.

(We have all seen news reports where people have died and their families have hit the headlines while battling amongst themselves for what monies the deceased had, or was entitled to from their insurance policy).

When you take out a life insurance policy of whatever form, there is a space on the policy document where you can name your chosen beneficiaries. If you fill this out any monies due at the time of your death will go directly to them, usually without question and within 30 days.

If you do not fill out this section of the document, any monies due at the time of your death will go to your estate (the collection of assets you owned at the time of death). This estate is handled “in probate” by a lawyer who decides depending on circumstance how the money is distributed.

Normally, the lawyer handling your estate has to respect the contents of a will and distribute the estate as the deceased required. This process can, however, be contested in court by relatives of the deceased for a multitude of reasons.

If you have completed the beneficiary part of your insurance document, it is your responsibility to make sure that it is up to date, changing it as your circumstances change. (For example; when you first got married you took out a life insurance policy and named your, then, spouse as the sole beneficiary. Later on in life you divorced and re-married. In the event of your death any monies due from the insurance policy will automatically go to your first spouse – unless you changed the beneficiary listed in the policy and named your current spouse.)

(Changing the beneficiary listed on your insurance policy is fairly simple, most insurance companies will just require that you fill out the appropriate forms and will then update your existing policy. Whereas changing a will usually requires the actions of an attorney and that the will is signed in the presence of witnesses)

When naming beneficiaries on a policy you have a number of choices:

  • You can name a sole beneficiary: In the event of your death the policy is paid directly to them.
  • You can name primary and secondary beneficiaries: in the event that the first beneficiary dies before you do the proceeds of the policy will go to the secondary beneficiary listed.
  • You can name a list of beneficiaries and specify what percentage each will receive at the time of your death. In the event of the death of one or more of the beneficiaries the figures will be adjusted to accommodate those remaining.

Can you name any one as a beneficiary?

Yes, you can name any one you wish as a beneficiary. They do not have to be a member of your family, or even connected to you in any way. In cases where a policy holder has no direct descendants it has been known for them to name someone unrelated to them who may have cared for them, or even charitable organisations.

It is, however, important to inform the beneficiary that you have named them as such, because if the life insurance company cannot locate the listed beneficiary after a certain period the proceeds of your policy will revert to your estate. (Which, in the case of no descendants, may revert to the province)?

So, when you take out that insurance policy think about whether you wish to name a beneficiary, or let the proceeds go to your estate, which will respect the contents of your will.

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