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Take this step now to protect your retirement accounts when you die


CNBC Make It is posting a new financial task to tackle each day for a month. These are all meant to be simple, time-sensitive activities to take your mind off of the news for a moment and, hopefully, put you on sturdier financial footing. This is day 28 of 30.

As we near the end of a month's worth of financial tasks, it's time to talk about what happens to your money when you die.

Today, take a few minutes to add or update the beneficiaries on your various retirement accounts, including your 401(k), IRAs and insurance policies. The beneficiaries you stipulate directly through the financial companies for these accounts pass any money left in them to that person automatically, overriding even a will, according to Vanguard.

This is especially important to do after major life events including marriage, divorce, the birth of a child or the death of a different family member. 

If you don't, your assets will automatically go to your spouse or become part of your estate when you die. If you wanted a specific person, such as your sister or child, to inherit your IRA, that might not happen if you don't designate that person as the beneficiary of the account. Your family, or whoever you designate, will also avoid probate and be able to access the money more easily, according to Fidelity.

Naming or changing a beneficiary is typically easy to do on most financial sites. First, make a list of your investment and bank accounts and insurance policies so you don't forget to update any. After you log on to each site, you will often be prompted to update your beneficiary, or you will be able to navigate to the proper page via the settings tab.

To designate a beneficiary, you'll need to list their name and their relationship to you, as well as their personal contact information, birthday and Social Security number. You may also designate a "contingent" beneficiary, or someone who receives the money if your primary beneficiary is also dead. You can also typically designate different percentages of your assets to different people, if that appeals to you. Some account types, including a 401(k), require spousal permission before you can add or change a beneficiary.

If you have a more complicated financial picture, including non-retirement investment accounts, Vanguard recommends seeking out an estate planning lawyer to help get your accounts in order.

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