jump to navigation

Tax Tip of the Week | “Transfer on Death” Designation – Be Vigilant!! October 9, 2019

Posted by bradstreetblogger in : General, tax changes, Tax Planning Tips, Tax Tip, Taxes , trackback

Using the “transfer on death” or “payable on death” beneficiary designation is very easy to set-up for your investments. This type of designation allows the account owner to choose a beneficiary to whom the assets would quickly pass upon the owner’s death. Often your broker, banker or financial planner will suggest using these designations as a means to avoid probate court on these assets.

The “transfer on death” or “payable on death” beneficiary designation is also easy to change. BUT you have to remember to make the necessary changes “in the event of changing circumstances such as births, deaths or divorces – or for no reason at all.” Failure to add a new child, lack of consideration for the tax bracket that your beneficiaries are in, a beneficiary death, or your death “before beneficiaries reach adulthood” are a few of those life events which necessitate a beneficiary update.

The “transfer on death” or “payable on death” beneficiary designations are not always a good quick fix for estate planning. “Experts advise monitoring (them) periodically. Consider (them) a part of estate planning, not a substitute for it.”

Excerpts from the WSJ article below, titled “Pitfalls of “Designated Beneficiaries” for Mutual-Fund Accounts was published in the WSJ on July 9, 2019.

                                                                                                         -Mark Bradstreet

Sometimes what seems to be simple isn’t really so simple at all.

Consider investment accounts with a “transfer on death” or “payable on death” designation. This type of account, which can be set up easily at brokerage firms and may contain mutual funds, stocks, bonds or other investments, allows the owner to designate a beneficiary or beneficiaries to whom the assets will pass quickly once the owner dies.

The advantage most often cited with these accounts is that whatever funds are in them go directly to beneficiaries, without having to go through the probate process. Beneficiaries typically only have to present proof of identity and a certified copy of the account owner’s death certificate to the investment company and the account passes to them.

Another advantage is that the designated beneficiaries can be changed at any time, and without consequence, up until the account owner’s death. The owner has the right to add or remove names in the event of changing circumstances such as births, deaths or divorces—or for no reason at all.

But there also are pitfalls associated with these types of accounts, which is why financial experts recommend people do their homework before establishing one. A few of the issues:

Life changes

As noted, one of the advantages of these accounts is that they can be changed at any time. But one of the disadvantages is that people may not change them when they should.

These accounts need to be carefully coordinated with your overall estate plan—and updated as life changes. If you fail to do this, family discord and litigation among your heirs could ensue. For example, if two children are named as beneficiaries of a transfer-on-death account, and a third child is born later, that child won’t be entitled to share in the distribution even if all three are named as heirs of the estate.

Similarly, if one of your beneficiaries is in a high tax bracket and another in a low one, an even distribution of a transfer-on-death account might result in an uneven distribution of your assets—even if that wasn’t your intention when you set it up originally. And if your beneficiary dies before you do, and you fail to update the designation listed on the account, the assets will go into your estate upon your death.

“People never get around to changing their accounts” says Ralph M. Engel, senior counsel in the trusts, estates and wealth-management group of Dentons US LLP. “When there are uneven amounts and you aren’t treating your kids equally, it could break up families.”

Another reason these accounts should be coordinated with your overall estate plan: If most of your assets are in one of these accounts, there may not be enough money left over to pay taxes, debts and other expenses associated with your estate. Your executor may then have to negotiate or go through legal proceedings with the account beneficiaries to access the necessary funds for these expenses.

“If an estate is more complicated, you don’t have as much flexibility with a transfer-on-death account as you do with a will or trust,” says Roger Young a senior financial planner at T. Rowe Price in Baltimore.

Spousal rights

Naming minors as beneficiaries of transfer-on-death accounts also can lead to problems if you die before your beneficiaries reach adulthood. That’s because investment firms won’t release assets to minors without a court order or evidence of a guardianship, indicating that an adult has the legal authority to make financial decisions for the child. As such, bequeathing funds through a will or trust may be preferable if your beneficiaries are young children.

Married couples can create joint transfer-on-death accounts, but it is important to remember that if one spouse dies the other generally receives full control of the account under the right of survivorship. That means the surviving spouse could revoke or modify the beneficiary designation at any time. It also means beneficiaries won’t receive the account until the surviving spouse also dies.

Of course, you can’t shortchange your spouse by creating a transfer-on-death account in your name only because your spouse may have rights to some or all of the money upon your death, regardless of who is named as the account’s beneficiary. Although details vary by state, a surviving spouse can make a spousal election, which gives him or her the right to receive a certain percentage of the estate’s assets. This percentage is generally between one-third and one-half of the assets. If you live in a community-property state, the surviving spouse may even own half of any account that is in your name only. The value of the transfer-on-death account would be included in this calculation.

Finally, keep in mind that your beneficiary has no right to the transfer-on-death account while you are still alive—unless you have a power of attorney granting that right.

If you decide to establish a transfer-on-death account despite these pitfalls, experts advise monitoring it periodically. Consider it a part of estate planning, not a substitute for it.

Credit Given to:  Leonard Sloane. Mr. Sloane is a writer in New York. He can be reached at reports@wsj.com.

Thank you for all of your questions, comments and suggestions for future topics. As always, they are much appreciated. We also welcome and appreciate anyone who wishes to write a Tax Tip of the Week for our consideration. We may be reached in our Dayton office at 937-436-3133 or in our Xenia office at 937-372-3504. Or, visit our website.  

This Week’s Author – Mark Bradstreet, CPA

–until next week.

Comments»

no comments yet - be the first?