Naming death beneficiaries on life insurance policies, bank accounts, and retirement accounts is a big part of many estate plans.  The recent case of In re Estate of Butler helped stabilize the law in this area and put many estate planning attorney’s minds at ease.

In that case, Patrick W. Butler designated one of his daughters the death beneficiary on several CD accounts, but his will divided his estate equally among his children and stepchildren.  The children and stepchildren claimed that the will showed Mr. Butler did not want the CD’s to go to one daughter, but that he wanted them divided equally among his children and step children. The will did not specifically reference the CDs.  A jury found there was sufficient evidence to conclude by clear and convincing evidence that Mr. Butler intended the CDs to be divided equally among his children and stepchildren.

The Minnesota Supreme Court reversed this finding because there was no evidence specifically referred to the CDs, including the will, showing Mr. Butler wanted the CDs divided equally among his children.

If the Supreme Court had not reversed, this would have dramatically changed the way estate planning is done in Minnesota.  Thousands of people would need to redraft their wills to specifically address accounts, insurance policies, or retirement plans that had a beneficiary designation scheme differing from that articulated in their wills. Thankfully, this result was avoided by the Supreme Court’s decision. Now individuals can name death beneficiaries without fear that their will could be used to overturn who their named beneficiaries are. The entire opion can be found here.


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