Knowing how to protect your assets helps guarantee that your heirs will have money to live on when you die. Estate planning might not seem like a top priority when you’re young, but it matters if something happens to you and you leave behind a spouse and young children. It pays to know what steps are necessary to ensure that your family gets your life insurance proceeds.
Power of Attorney
A power of attorney gives another individual the legal right to make financial decisions on your behalf should you become physically or mentally unable to do so for yourself. You can execute a general power of attorney giving an individual the authority to represent you in making financial decisions until you revoke the power of attorney. A limited power of attorney restricts your representative to making decisions relating to only certain matters that you detail in the power of attorney document.
A life insurance company pays benefits to the person or persons you list on your beneficiary designation form. Naming a beneficiary of your life insurance benefits in your will does not take priority over the person you choose as your beneficiary on the beneficiary designation form. For this reason, it’s important to update your beneficiary information following major life changes such as marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or the death of your spouse or partner. You can change your beneficiary designation any time you want except if you name an irrevocable beneficiary. In that case, you can't change the beneficiary unless the current beneficiary consents.
Power of Attorney Rights
Policies vary, but as a rule a power of attorney may not sign a beneficiary designation form, although some insurance programs allow it. However, for your power of attorney to complete your beneficiary designation form or make changes to it, you must specifically assign the individual that right. Likewise, a power of attorney cannot designate herself as a beneficiary on the form unless the power of attorney documents clearly state that she has that right. When your legal representative signs and submits your beneficiary designation form, she must also submit a copy of the power of attorney documents to the insurance company showing that you have given her that right. Unless you indicate an ending date, a power of attorney ends when you die.
When you die, the person you name as your power of attorney loses all rights and therefore is unable to make decisions about who receives your life insurance proceeds or other assets. Although most insurance companies require a beneficiary designation form, if you do not name a beneficiary on your form, the insurance company may pay the benefits to your estate. The money then becomes subject to probate. State laws regarding probate vary. In some states, as long as you have a will, the proceeds of your life insurance will be distributed according to the directions you leave in your will. If you leave no will, the court will appoint an executor. Once your debts, probate costs and burial costs are paid, the court usually distributes any remaining assets to your spouse and children.
- New Jersey Division of Pensions and Benefits: Designation of Beneficiary
- U.S. Office of Personnel Management: Designation of Beneficiaries FAQs
- Northern Illinois University Human Resource Services: Beneficiary Designation Instructions
- Paul B. Bartlett, P.C.: Powers of Attorney in Arizona
- ExpertLaw: Power of Attorney
Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.