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Idaho Estate Planning Don't Overlook Designating Your Beneficiaries

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

People are often surprised to learn that there is more to estate planning than just having a last will and testament. While having a written will is important, it is not the only document that you should have. Other estate planning documents would include a durable power of attorney over property and finances. This would give you the ability to name someone to take care of your estate if you are not capable of doing it yourself because of an injury, or an illness such as Alzheimer’s or a stroke.

Additionally, each person should also have a power of attorney for health care. This gives another person the legal ability to decide what medicines you take, what doctors you see, and what medical procedures you receive if you could not make these decisions for yourself. Furthermore, every person should have a living will so that their end-of-life instructions and wishes are known in the event they are ever placed on life support. It’s also possible that an individual or couple may need a trust or more than one trust as part of their estate planning to take care of minor-aged children, disabled children, or gifts that they would like to last through several generations of family members.

But this is not all. In addition to these basic estate planning documents, every individual should be concerned about properly naming beneficiaries in several other areas of their life. The purpose of this article is to talk about beneficiaries, and how you make sure that you have properly designated all of the beneficiaries that you have in all the places they should be named.

Beneficiaries Named in Your Will

Most people are familiar with what a last will and testament is. This is the main document used by most people in their estate planning to name beneficiaries who will receive the money, property, and other assets from their estate after they have passed away.

Your named and listed beneficiaries could include your spouse, your children, your grandchildren, or any other real human being. Additionally, the beneficiaries you list in your written will could include a specific charity, or a charitable purpose.

Because Idaho is a community property state, if your spouse survives you, they will automatically be a beneficiary of your written last will and testament even if you don’t name them. In other words, you cannot give away your portion of the community property in a way that would harm your surviving spouse. On the other hand, any separate property that you own can be given to any beneficiary that you list or name. This is true even if the beneficiary is not your spouse.

Beneficiaries Named Outside of Your Will

However, it’s important to understand that a written will is not the only place where beneficiaries are designated. Other places where beneficiaries need to be named include items that fall outside of your written will.

For example, consider life insurance. Life insurance is a contract between the owner of the insurance policy and the insurance company. One of the terms of the contract is that a beneficiary is named who will receive the money from the life insurance when the person who is insured passes away. If you have specifically named a beneficiary on a life insurance contract, this will control even if your written will says someone else should receive your life insurance proceeds.

In addition to life insurance, many people also have what we call payable-on-death or POD accounts. These often include retirement accounts such as 401 ks, IRAs, annuities, and in some instances pensions. Again, the beneficiary that is designated on the contract associated with these accounts controls even if a written will says that someone else has the beneficiary.

The only time your written will would control who the beneficiaries are on insurance contracts or POD accounts is if there are no beneficiaries designated on the contracts. When this happens, and when the person dies, the insurance company or account administrator is required to distribute the money to the estate of the individual who passed away. Once the money is in the estate, then it is controlled by the written will.

Planning for Contingencies

It’s also important to understand that when it comes to naming beneficiaries you should also plan for contingencies. In other words, in addition to naming the primary beneficiary in your written will, on your life insurance contracts and on your POD accounts, you can also name contingent beneficiaries who will receive the money and/or property if the primary beneficiary you listed passes away before you.

For example, it’s common on a life insurance contract for a husband to name his wife as the primary beneficiary. Then, the husband may also list his children as the secondary or contingent beneficiaries. In this instance, if the wife passes away before the husband, then the children become the actual beneficiaries of the life insurance proceeds.

The same thing is true when it comes to POD accounts. It is also true for a person’s estate which is controlled by their written will. In fact, it may be more important in a written will that it is outside of one.

If all the beneficiaries that a person listed in their written will have passed away before them and there are no other beneficiaries listed, then, when that person passes away, their entire estate will “escheat”, or go to the government. Most people don’t want this to happen. Because of this, we provide a safety net in every written will that we create where a final permanent beneficiary is listed.

If you have questions about who your beneficiaries are, or how you have listed beneficiaries in your estate planning, we can help. We have assisted numerous individuals in creating their own personalized estate plans with the beneficiaries they specifically would that we are confident that we can help you too!

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney To Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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