When Washington residents think about planning for the future and distributing their assets, they may consider making a will or even a trust, envisioning that this will make sure their wishes are carried out. However, what many people do not realize is that some of the largest and most important assets a person may have are often not controlled by a will at all, because they do not go through probate. Life insurance policies, retirement plans and investment funds often have a pay-on-death beneficiary, who will receive the payout after the original owner passes away.

In many cases, people have insurance policies or retirement investments through their employers, and they may have signed beneficiary forms as part of a large stack of paperwork when they were first hired. This may mean that their wishes are not currently reflected in those beneficiary details; in some cases, people may have named their now-deceased parents as beneficiaries when they first started a job, while others named a now-former spouse. For many people with high-powered corporate jobs, a significant portion of their estates may pass through these kind of beneficiary designations rather than through the probate courts.

While it may be an often-overlooked task, updating beneficiary information is generally relatively easy. People need to contact the benefits administrator for their company or for their insurer in order to request the forms to update this data.

Beneficiary designations form one part of the overall framework of a plan for the future of a person’s assets. An estate planning lawyer can work to develop that plan and execute key documents like wills, trusts, and powers of attorney.