Word of Mouth - Still Not Binding

I recently had a client contact our office regarding her deceased relative’s retirement account.  In the later years of her relative’s life, her relative spent the majority of his time in a nursing home.  During this time, our client alleges that on multiple occasions her relative verbally expressed to the nursing home, and her, that it was his intention that the proceeds of his retirement account be payable to my client.  Despite his intention, the relative never executed a change of beneficiary form to designate my client as beneficiary.  To complicate the situation, the beneficiaries currently listed include the relative’s ex-girlfriend from many years prior.  Now, after her relative’s death, all that remains is word of mouth to support the claims of our client.

While the contents of estate planning documents per se cannot solve this situation, estate planning encompasses the continued monitoring of all assets, including those that contain straight beneficiary designations.  We work with, and encourage our clients to make sure that beneficiary designations for retirement accounts and life insurance are often reexamined.  It is important to reexamine beneficiary designations after any life changing event, such as breaking up with a significant other, divorce, birth, or death, to ensure that the right individuals are either removed, or added depending on the event.  Without proper monitoring, your assets may be distributed against your intentions.

Beneficiary designations and estate planning documents MUST be changed in writing (and must be absolutely clear).   Word of mouth will not suffice to accomplish ones intentions.  We advise our clients of this and encourage each of you to reexamine your current designations so you don’t end up in a situation like the one described herein.

-  Gary Altman, Esq. and Adam Abramowitz, Esq.

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