What is the Problem?

Your 401Ks, IRAs, bank accounts, CDs, and other money saving tools usually require you to designate a beneficiary for the time when you pass away. These are sometimes called PODs or TODs. That means Pass on Death or Transfer on Death. Accounts and properties with PODs and TODs do not require probate. The accounts or properties legally pass at the moment of death. However, problems arise when circumstances change, and people forget to update their beneficiary designations.

When do these problems arise?

These are some common situations that can create unwanted results:

    • You divorce and your ex is the designated beneficiary. Divorce does not automatically sever that designation. You must contact your provider and ask for a change of designated beneficiary form. Otherwise, your ex will inherit your 401K and IRA.
    • Death of designated beneficiary. Sometimes you may want that person’s descendants to receive the inheritance, so you will need to specify that. Sometimes you do NOT want that person’s descendants to receive the inheritance. Make sure to specify a new beneficiary.
    • Beneficiary is your child whose spouse has turned into an unwelcome person in your family. You can change your designated beneficiary to be a trust that only your child can access. Contact an estate planning attorney to help you.

What happens if the designated beneficiary is not changed?

If there is no designated beneficiary because the person has passed away or if there is no POD or TOD designation listed at all, the contents of the accounts or properties will be included in the decedent’s estate to be probated. If there is a valid will, then it will be disbursed as the will instructs. If there is not a will, then the estate will be disbursed according to the Tennessee state default rules of intestacy.


Be vigilant about keeping your assets current. Re-visit your beneficiary designations on your accounts and properties to make sure that they are still as you wish. Otherwise, you could make your ex a very wealthy person.

We Can Help

We are here to help guide you as you make decisions regarding your estate and long term care planning needs.  Whatever issue is preventing you from developing a more extensive estate plan, please allow Elder Law of Middle Tennessee to assist you in this process.

For more information, contact our Lebanon, TN office at 615-444-3568 and schedule your appointment today.