It’s Time to Check Emergency Contacts and Beneficiary Designations

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Time for your yearly reminder to check the beneficiary designations on your military benefits, insurance policies, retirement accounts and bank accounts.

The beneficiary is the person who is designated to receive benefits and account balances when you die. It’s important to review your beneficiary designations regularly because life happens: marriages, births, divorces, deaths and all sorts of other things. Beneficiary designations usually override any instructions left in a will, and in most states, undesignated benefits will be distributed based on state law. You could end up with your money and benefits going to someone you didn’t intend, and that can be a double blow to the surviving families.

Even if you are 100% sure that nothing in your life has changed, it is a good idea to check your information every once in a while -- maybe once a year. As we all know, records somehow get messed-up from time to time. You won’t know if it is wrong unless you look.

And on that note, I recommend that you keep electronic and/or paper copies of your designations for each account, and of any changes you make. This will help your survivors, especially if something seems wrong to them.

Check Your Military Family Paperwork

The military feels pretty strongly that you keep your emergency data up to date, and yet stuff falls through the cracks all the time. We’ve all heard the stereotype about the military member who forgets to change their SGLI beneficiary, subsequently dies, and the money goes to a former spouse. It sounds ridiculous but we’ve all heard about it because it happens.

Each branch calls the place where you designate your death gratuition, arrears of pay and other military benefits something different. Here’s a rundown of terms:

  • Air Force: vRED, Virtual Record of Emergency Data
  • Army: DD93
  • Coast Guard: CG2020-D Designation of Beneficiaries and Record of Emergency Data
  • Navy: Page 2 or Record of Emergency Data
  • Marine Corps: Page 2, RED, or Record of Emergency Data

SGLI is handled separately. You can verify and update your SGLI beneficiaries at the MilConnect website.

Your Thrift Savings Plan also has beneficiary designations. You can check and update that information at the TSP website.

Pro-tip: If any of your beneficiaries are minors, you probably want to get some legal advice on the best way to handle that situation. You may need to set up a person to hold the money, or create a trust, or something else, depending on your situation.

Civilian Family Paperwork

Most of us have accounts outside of the military world. This might include bank accounts, civilian insurance policies, Individual Retirement Arrangements, 529 plans, investment accounts, or old 401(k)s. In most cases, you can review your beneficiary designations online, and sometimes even make changes online, too. In other cases, you will need to request the correct paperwork from the organization who manages the asset.

In the future, remind yourself to review your beneficiaries after any life event, such as marriage, divorce, death or birth. You may also want to review your beneficiary designations if one of your beneficiaries has a change in their life. Perhaps your relationship has changed, or they are no longer in a good position to manage an influx of cash. Most beneficiary designation forms give you the option to list secondary beneficiaries in case your primary beneficiary is no longer alive.

Maintaining updated beneficiary designations makes sure that your benefits and savings go to the people that you intend, and helps avoid conflict and drama if you pass away. Given the array of benefits available to survivors of military members, keeping that information accurate is essential.

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