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Christopher S. Mulvaney


They can’t be changed once you die.

Beneficiary Designations confuse many people. So, you are not alone if you don’t understand how they work.

The institution that holds your account (such as Fidelity) has a form (often online) to allow you to name to whom you wish your 401(k), IRA, brokerage account, or life insurance to go to after you pass away without involvement from a Court.

Filling out the form and keeping a copy that you have done so saves thousands of dollars in Probate fees and months of time – as well as protecting your privacy by not having a public record of the value of the gift.

If you are single you can name either a person or a Trust as Primary Beneficiary.

Do not leave the beneficiary designation form blank or name your Estate because doing so forces your heirs into Probate if the asset is over $100,000.

If you are married, you cannot validly name anyone other than your spouse as Primary Beneficiary without the written consent of your spouse. Ask for the consent or waiver form from the institution that holds your account.

Below is a sample of what to enter into the online form:


Date of Trust: 01/27/2021 (This is the date you signed the Trust – The birthday of the Trust)

Your Spouse is the Primary Beneficiary.  Enter your Spouse’s SSN when naming your spouse as Primary Beneficiary.

The Trust is the Contingent Beneficiary (or your kids if they are old enough). Enter your SSN and the date you signed the Trust when naming the Trust as Contingent Beneficiary. Enter your kid’s SSN and date of birth when naming directly.

Clients have asked whether the Trust name is unique. No, it is not. What is unique is the match among the account number, the birthday of the Trust, the SSN and birthday of the owner of the account, and the SSN and birthday of the beneficiary. It is the matching of the numbers to the names of the Trust, account owner and beneficiary that produces the unique transaction between yourself and your beneficiaries.

Here is a sample of my Beneficiary Designations from Fidelity. I have three accounts, so there are three (3) different Beneficiary Designations. You do not have to name the same beneficiaries for each account.

Beneficiary Designations become irrevocable at death and cannot be changed by a Judge no matter how unfair the result.

This became such a serious issue with people forgetting to remove their x-spouse as Primary Beneficiary after divorce that the Legislature enacted a Statute (RCW 11.07.010) that voids the gift to the the x-spouse upon entry of the Divorce Decree.

What was happening was a situation in which an elderly person with two ($2,000,000) million dollars in a 401(k) and two adult kids disinherited the kids because 35 years ago that person forgot to remove the x-spouse as Primary Beneficiary. When the kids went to Court, the Judge agreed that it wasn’t fair that their step-parent got two ($2,000,000) million dollars and they got nothing, but the Judge did not have the discretion to change the irrevocable Beneficiary Designation.

I had a case that I told the clients they would lose, but they wanted me to argue it nonetheless. Their father told them he was going to change the Beneficiary Designation to include all of the adult kids. The father requested the form and filled it out, but didn’t mail it in before dying of a heart attack. The Judge agreed that the intent of the father was clear and the result unfair, but the Judge did not have the authority to invalidate an irrevocable beneficiary designation.

The first step is making sure the documents are accurate, that you understand them, and they reflect your wishes.  We can go over the asset list after your estate plan reflects your wishes if you would like to, but we don’t have to.  Doing so is technically outside the scope of legal insurance coverage, but if questions are minor (which they usually are) we don’t have to have a written discounted fee agreement for me to assist you.  

It is possible, for $500 for me to go through each beneficiary designation, payable on death, or titling in the name of the Trust as well as the letter of instruction, supporting materials, digital pictures, and contact information.  However, once I record the Transfer on Death Deed and people look at the sample Beneficiary Designations I put in the shared folder, they decide that they can do the personalization of their plan to their specific account numbers themselves.

After that, any time you want (even years in the future) you can update the spreadsheet and letter of instruction as well as add any documents you wish.  The link in the Trust will always be to the most current version of what is in shared folder.  

The idea is to make electronic sharing easier, so that you you can let your loved ones know where you keep the paper documents to round out your financial picture.  I suggest keeping redundant electronic and paper records like most people do for their taxes, and keeping estate planning documents with tax records.  This is especially helpful since one of the duties of estate administration is to file the final tax return of the deceased.

Legal Services Offered





While my practice is centered on helping consumers get out of debt and protect themselves and their families in the event of death or incapacity, I am happy to offer additional legal services to my existing estate planning and bankruptcy clients.

Are you worried about mounting debt?

Or facing a Judgment, Garnishment or Foreclosure?

Have you been putting off getting an estate plan for too long?

I offer my clients legal counsel regarding foreclosure, buying and selling real estate, Transfer on Death Deeds, and real estate matters generally.  

MULVANEY LAW OFFICES, PLLC does not do litigation.

Christopher S. Mulvaney’s Mission:

To Always Be a Human Being First – and My Role Second. 

To First, Do No Harm, then to provide the best legal outcome, smoothest process, best value, and to make a positive difference in the life of every client.

Christopher S. Mulvaney’s Mantra:

May I be filled with loving kindness for all life.

May I be safe from dangers within and without.

May I be healthy in body, mind, socially, and spiritually.

May I be at ease and happy doing good in the world.

Every client is an estate planning client. 

Additional services related to debt, bankruptcy, and real estate are available to estate planning clients.

I offer initial ZOOM legal consultations to prospective estate planning and bankruptcy clients for two reasons:

(1) determining if the issues are within my practice areas (the “wheelhouse“), and

(2) determining whether a potential client is willing to let me lead them to the best likelihood of achieving a favorable outcome with the smoothest process of getting there. 


DISCLAIMER:  The use of email or this form for communication with MULVANEY LAW OFFICES, PLLC does not establish an Attorney-Client Relationship. Time-sensitive information should not be sent through this Form or through email.  Confidential information can be uploaded into a shared encrypted folder after you have made initial contact with me.

For more information about my practice in Bellevue, Washington, please consult my Blog.

  • Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue, Redmond, Renton, Issaquah, Sammamish, Maple Valley, Burien, SeaTac, and throughout King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties.

If you have read this far, you may be interested to know what I need to explain to potential clients very quickly which is the intersection in the Venn Diagram above of my practice areas and insurance coverage. As you can see the numbers of case types that are not in my practice areas is large, as is the number of case types that are neither in my practice area nor covered by legal insurance. The intersection is what I call the Wheelhouse. It contains two practice areas – estate planning and bankruptcy that pay all of the bills.

The small miscellaneous bit of my practice which I only do in conjunction with estate planning (bankruptcy is also done in conjunction with estate planning, so every client is an estate planning client. The challenge to me is to quickly explain to prospective clients that the long list of miscellaneous services on the left side of the diagram do not pay the bills – they are simply done to assist my estate planning clients with other matters that are not economical for lawyers to handle in isolation, so they would likely have difficulty finding counsel to assist them.

That is the difference between paying out of pocket by the hour and using flat fee legal insurance. If you are paying by the hour, you have more latitude regarding what the scope of service includes and what it does not. However, if the issue is too small you are not likely to find a lawyer to assist you even if you are willing to pay more than the market hourly rate because many smaller cases interfere with revenue production, increase stress, and increase risk.

That is an important part of why I do what I do the way I do it. There are many lawyers to serve you if you have means, in the manner you wish to be served. However, the majority of middle class and lower middle class people do not have access to legal representation and advice when they need it. In 1979, I heard Jimmy Carter give a speech in which he said that America is over lawyered and under represented. That is more true now than it was then.

I see my niche in the law as representing people in the most economical way possible for the most people, which is through legal insurance. Egalitarian access to legal services affordable by as many people as possible is a value for me. I have the privilege of earning a living in a manner that is consistent with my values. So, if you choose to become a client of MULVANEY LAW OFFICES, PLLC I thank you for allowing me to be who I am in my work, and to serve with my whole self – not divorced from consideration for the good of society in the pursuit of forever more profit.