More HH Legal Updates

Houston Harbaugh is a full service law firm headquartered in Pittsburgh and serving Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. This collection of blogs further highlights the firms capabilities in several practice areas.

Planning Your Estate: Are Your Beneficiaries in Order?

Individuals with high net worth, such as many medical professionals, tend to have significant retirement accounts and insurance policies with large death benefits. Anyone who owns a retirement account or insurance policy should be aware of the distinction between assets that pass under a Will and assets that pass outside of a Will.

One major category of assets that pass outside of a Will include those assets that pass to designated beneficiaries under a contract. Common examples are life insurance proceeds and retirement accounts, such as a 401(k), 403(b), traditional IRA or Roth IRA. Unless the designated beneficiary is the owner’s estate, the distribution of those assets is not governed by the Will.

In most cases when the estate is the beneficiary, proper advance planning was not done and the estate is consequently the beneficiary by default. While there are rare situations when the estate is the optimal beneficiary, that is usually not the case and negative financial effects often result.

Although insurance proceeds and retirement accounts pass outside a person’s Will, the related beneficiary designations should nonetheless be coordinated with the owner’s Will and overall estate plan.

For example, when a beneficiary shouldn’t receive funds outright due to age or disability, a common solution is for the beneficiary designation to direct the funds to a trust created for such beneficiary under the owner’s Will. Tax concerns or issues with creditors are other common reasons for directing funds to a trust.

Beneficiary designations are effective once they are recorded with the applicable insurance carrier or financial institution. Companies require submission of their own beneficiary designation forms. The degree of customization that will be accepted varies from company to company. Keep in mind that simply executing a Will does not address how benefits flow from an insurance policy or retirement account.

Moreover, while the Will does not govern the distribution of assets passing by beneficiary designation, the Will may direct how the death taxes attributable to property passing by beneficiary designation are paid. If the beneficiaries under the Will are not identical to the beneficiaries receiving assets outside the Will, unintended tax consequences could result if this issue is not addressed properly in the Will.

In the end, when you plan your estate, take into account the potential impacts on the beneficiaries of your assets passing outside the Will and explore proper means to minimize financial costs while ensuring clarity so that your wishes are implemented.

About Us

Trusted and Cost-Effective Business Law, Business Litigation and Estate Planning Attorneys and Counselors; Building Client Confidence™ with Businesses and Individuals Since 1975

Our firm offers individualized solutions and the highest quality, client-driven and cost effective legal services. Houston Harbaugh, P.C., is a well-known law firm in Pittsburgh, serving Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Our diverse practice areas include Business Law, Business Litigation, Estate and Succession Planning, Intellectual Property Litigation and Prosecution, Employment and Labor, Employee Benefits, Oil and Gas, Landowner and Property Dispute Counseling and Litigation, Health Care, Environmental, Real Estate, Construction, Complex Tort and Catastrophic Injury Litigation, Insurance coverage and Bad Faith Law, Mediation, Arbitration and Special Master appointment work. As one of the 20 largest law firms in Pittsburgh, our lawyers serve clients on a regional and national basis.

We regularly represent regional, national and international insurance carriers in defense, insurance coverage, unfair trade practices and bad faith matters, and we issue opinions letters and coverage analyses for insurers. We defend designers, manufacturers and sellers in pharmaceutical, products and medical products liability matters and we litigate and try cases involving catastrophic injuries, industrial accidents, toxic torts, professional, engineering and architectural negligence, and agent and broker claims and lawsuits.

Why Houston Harbaugh, P.C.? The Answer Is Clear.

We are accomplished litigators with a strong track record of success in the courtroom and in jury trials. We design and manage business transactions, succession planning, banking and regulatory issues. Our firm has regularly been featured in the U.S. News “Best Lawyers”® rankings of Pittsburgh’s “Best Law Firms.” Our attorneys are also regularly nominated as “Best Lawyers” in this publication. In addition, many of our attorneys are consistently recognized in the annual national Super Lawyers peer review rankings, and our corporate practice has been selected as the winner of The Legal Intelligencer’s Best Law Firm Corporate Practices contest for the Midsize Firm category. Our property and landowner counseling and litigation practice in Oil and Gas and Real Estate is ranked at the top on a regional basis. We help clients to apply for, prosecute, audit, manage and protect intellectual property rights in patent, trademark, copyright and trade secrets. We are admitted to the USPTO and have experience in the TTAB. Some of our firm’s shareholders are Adjunct Professors of Law at the Duquesne University School of Law in litigation and intellectual property courses.

Helping You Achieve Your Goals For Over 40 Years

Since our inception as a health care practice in 1975, our attorneys have represented clients in state and federal courts in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio and throughout the nation. We have grown into a multi-disciplinary practice with the ability to handle complex business transactional and litigation matters. We counsel on estate and succession planning and on trust and guardianship matters. We have a strong employment and labor practice. We represent clients in trade secret counseling and federal Defend Trade Secret Act (DTSA) counseling and litigation. Our DTSALaw® practice group is well versed in this federal body of trade secret law. We counsel, draft, litigate and defend claims involving employment non-compete, restrictive covenants, non-disclosure agreements and breach of contract matters. We service clients in the collection of debts and in bankruptcy creditor matters. Houston Harbaugh litigates in Orphans and Probate courts for matters involving estates and trusts. We also provide mediation and arbitration services to parties involved in litigation and our lawyers are currently serving as court appointed special masters in the Federal Courts.

Contact us and Learn How We Can Help You and Your Business

For more information on how we can help you, call our Pittsburgh office at 412-281-5060. You can also reach us online.

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