What's the difference between a life insurance beneficiary vs. a will?

Life insurance is a long-term contract with an insurance company that will pay out to the stated beneficiaries on the policy. A will, however, is a legal document, often drawn up with the help of an attorney, that states your final wishes and how your heirs will receive your assets after your death.

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Does a will supersede a life insurance beneficiary?

A will won’t supersede the beneficiaries listed on a life insurance policy. In most cases, the beneficiary listed on the life insurance policy has the right to claim the payout regardless of the instructions in the will. It's also a good idea to name a contingent beneficiary on your insurance policy if your primary beneficiary is unable or unwilling to accept the payout.

Can a will change a life insurance beneficiary?

In most cases, a will can't change a life insurance beneficiary. Typically, the life insurance is paid almost immediately upon the confirmation of death. At the same time, it generally takes more time for a will to make its way through county probate court.

The beneficiary on a life insurance policy can be one person or entity, or it can be several. The same is true for the beneficiary of an estate, as is laid out in the will. While they use the same term, the beneficiary for a life insurance policy and the beneficiary for a will are very different.

There are situations where a will can change a life insurance beneficiary. If your life insurance beneficiaries predecease you, including any contingent beneficiaries, the insurance payout will go to your estate. In that case, the beneficiaries of your will receive the money following the terms of your will. Check with your financial or estate planning advisor if you have questions.

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