Friday, January 27, 2012
Which takes priority a will or a beneficiary designation?
Many people making a will think that the will controls everything. That is not the case. The will does not trump beneficiary designations, payable on death designations, or transfer on death designations. Nor does it control how property held jointly with right of survivorship passes. This means that if a house or a bank account is held jointly with right of survivorship with another person, that asset passes to the survivor no matter what the wills says. Similarly, if life insurance or a retirement account is payable to a named beneficiary it passes to that beneficiary and is not affected by the will. There are other wrinkles in the law that affect how property passes, such as creditors rights or augmented estate rights in Virginia. This is why making a will should be part of a planning process involving consultation with an attorney and it should not be just a creation of a document without an understanding of the legal aspects that an attorney can explain. You do not need to be wealthy to make a will or to benefit from consulting with an estate planning attorney.