New York Individual Retirement Account Designations Must be Scrutinized To Avoid Beneficiary Conflict

On December 14, 2010, the New York Probate Lawyer Blog discussed the problems created when beneficiary designations are incomplete, confusing or ambiguous. These beneficiary designations can appear on many different types of assets such as annuities, life insurance, Individual Retirement Accounts, 401K benefit plans and other types of pension plans.

Designations that are confusing and changes made to the named beneficiaries, particularly changes made when a decedent is ill, incapacitated or shortly before death, create issues that can result in extensive and expensive estate litigation. In Mury v. Allen, Index No. 105439/2010 (Supreme Court, New York County) the Court was asked to determine a procedural issue regarding the standing or right of the plaintiff to challenge a beneficiary change made to an IRA account by a decedent shortly before his death.
In its decision dated November 22, 2010 and reported in the New York Law Journal on December 1, 2010, the Court found that the defendant failed to present sufficient facts to challenge the plaintiff’s standing. The details of the Mury case provide yet another insight into the need to provide clarity and diligence in preparing an estate plan that includes a Last Will and assets that pass directly to specifically named beneficiaries. In Mury, the decedent was an 86 year old widower at his death. He was survived by one daughter whom he disinherited in his Last Will in which he left his entire estate to his “former French mistress”.

The decedent had originally designated his wife as the beneficiary of his IRA. However, since his wife had predeceased him an issue arose as to who was the successor or alternate beneficiary of the IRA. Shortly after his death, a beneficiary change had been made to the IRA naming a home health aide who had been helping care for the decedent during the five (5) months prior to his death. Complicating matters further, was an issue as to the IRA contract terms and whether the decedent’s estate (i.e. his mistress) or his daughter would be deemed the IRA beneficiary if the beneficiary designation to the home health aide was voided by the Court.

Since the Court allowed the mistress, plaintiff, to continue with her lawsuit, the dispute over the IRA account will be ongoing with the obvious cost and upset to all involved.

New York Probate Attorney Jules M. Haas has helped many clients over the past 30 years resolve issues relating to estates and estate settlement. If you or someone you know has any questions regarding these matters, please contact me at (212) 355-2575 for an initial consultation.

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