Update your life insurance beneficiaries!


man updating beneficiaries on life insurance policy

Pop quiz: When is the last time you updated your life insurance beneficiaries and beneficiaries on other important financial documents?

If you are like most people, you probably don’t think about your beneficiaries very often, but you should. Financial advisers say that failing to keep your beneficiaries up-to-date is a common and costly mistake. Failure to periodically update your beneficiaries could have unintended consequences. You’d probably prefer that your current spouse rather than a former spouse would be the beneficiary of your assets – but if you haven’t updated your paperwork, your ex could see a big payday on your passing!

As you prep for tax filing and gather your financial documents, it’s a good time to add beneficiary updates to your checklist to be sure that your designated beneficiaries are up to date. Life and circumstances change. Parents die, marriages dissolve, children are born, and any of these events may warrant a change in beneficiaries.

What documents should you check? In the linked article above, financial advisers say:

In addition to IRAs of the traditional, Roth, SIMPLE and SEP varieties, beneficiaries should be checked on 401(k) plans, 403(b) and deferred-compensation employer plans, life insurance policies, 529 education accounts and any bank or other account designated as “Transfer on Death.”

Here are some best practices to consider when naming beneficiaries:

Always name a beneficiary. People who have wills often think they have their beneficiaries covered, but this assumption can be wrong. Generally, beneficiaries named in insurance policies and retirement plans will take precedence over any instructions you leave in your will. Make sure you have specified individuals as beneficiaries in your policies and plans. People often name their “estate” as the beneficiary but this can lead to benefits being tied up in probate court. Failure to name a beneficiary may also mean that you miss out on certain plan or policy advantages. For example, if you name an estate as beneficiary, an IRA will be liquidated on your death and taxes will be due. If your spouse is named as beneficiary, he or she could potentially continue to enjoy tax-free growth.

Be specific. Avoid ambiguous language. Simply stating “my husband” or “my niece” may not be sufficient, particularly in instances of multiple marriages. It’s a good idea to use full names of intended beneficiaries to avoid potential confusion or disputes.

Name a secondary beneficiary. Make sure that it will be you and not your state law that determines who will be the recipient of your policy benefits. If your primary beneficiary should pass away and you have not named a secondary or contingent beneficiary, your insurance policy or retirement plan will be distributed according to your will. If you have no will, the decision will default to state law.

Keep important records in a secure place and tell a trusted family member what and where they are. Many people die suddenly without leaving instructions as to where a will, insurance papers and other important records are kept. All too often, benefits go unclaimed because family members don’t know about potential benefits or can’t find important account information. Bank accounts and insurance policies are overlooked. Make sure someone in your family is familiar with your most important records and where they are kept.

Further reading:

You can also talk to your independent insurance agent about updating your life insurance. Don’t have life insurance or don’t have an independent insurance agent? If you live in New England, find a Renaissance Alliance insurance agent near you to help you with life, auto, homeowners, and many other types of insurance.

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Time to prep that swimming pool for safety!


little girls in the swimming pool

Is it too early to think about going swimming yet? We’ve certainly earned warm weather after a snowy, chilly start to spring. Swimming season can’t be far away!

But if you own a backyard pool, whether of the in-ground or above-ground variety, you know that before the fun starts there’s some work to do. Your pool needs to be in swimsuit-shape, too!

A call to your local swimming pool service will do some of the work for you – their trained technicians can clean, fill, and maintain your pool. But there are a host of issues involved with pool ownership that you, the pool owner, will need to consider.

Some of those issues regard insurance. If you’ve just installed a new swimming pool or purchased your first property with a swimming pool, you might not be aware of the implications of swimming pool ownership.

Familiarize yourself with local standards regarding swimming pools to make sure you are in compliance. Certain municipalities may require fencing, locked gates, decks, and accessible pool safety equipment.

You’re also going to need insurance. Call your local insurance agent and ask her to lay out the different kinds of insurance available. Swimming pools are considered an “attractive nuisance” by the insurance industry and they will increase your liability. So upping your liability insurance is generally a good idea. Consider an umbrella liability policy for extended coverage. Make sure your coverage includes the cost to repair or replace the swimming pool should it be damaged in a natural disaster.

There are simple steps you can take to make your swimming pool safer and reduce your risk. Create a barrier to prevent unauthorized access to your pool. A wall, a fence, locked gates, alarms on doors leading to the pool – all of these measures will help to dissuade uninvited guests from taking a quick dip.

It’s also good to know some details about your swimming pool. Know how to remove and change pool filters, and how to shut the pumps off in an emergency. Know how to install, clean, and maintain drain covers. Enroll yourself and your family members in a water safety class and teach your children to swim as soon as possible.

There’s lots of good suggestions regarding pool safety out there. Here’s a good place to start: PoolSafety.gov. Also, The National Swimming Pool Foundation offers a reasonably-priced 2-hour online training on Home Pool Essentials that comes with a 30-page guide.

Choose the right seat: It’s Child Passenger Safety Week


illustration of child car safety seats for child safety passenger week

If you have a child between the ages of 1 and 13 or know someone who does, listen up: This week  – September 17-23 is Child Passenger Safety Week – sponsored by the the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Car crashes are a leading cause of death for children ages 1 to 13, but many deaths and injuries can be prevented by the proper use of car seats, boosters and seat belts. A lot of attention is given to infant car seat, but as children grow, how they sit in your car will change. That’s why it’s so important to make age and size adjustments and choose and use the right car seat correctly every time your child is in the car.

This NHTSA site offers valuable help and resources for choosing the right seat. Learn to:

  • Choose the right seat. Learn the difference between rear-facing seat, forward-facing, boosters and belts.
  • Find the car seat that fits your child’s current size and age and get age-based recommendations
  • Use the Car Seat Finder, an easy-to-use tool that compares seats and ease-of-use ratings to help find the right car seat for your child.
  • Learn tips to install and anchor seats correctly
  • Find out where to get your car seat inspected by a certified technician
  • Register your car seat to receive important safety updates
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If it’s May, it must be National Bicycle Month! Is your bike road ready?


bicycle month

There are a few sure signs of spring – the swallows return to Capistrano, the trees begin to bud, and you see more bicycles on the road. To kick off the season, May is National Bike Month – time to get your bike tuned up so you can participate in Bike to School Day on May 10, Bike to Work Week from May 15-19 and Bike to Work Day on May 19!

And as part of our spring ritual, we like to gather some good resources for everything you need to know to have bike ship-shape and road-ready for the good weather ahead.

Popular Mechanics offers a handy pictorial guide to 9 things to do to check your bicycle for spring.

Check out our prior post on ensuring you get the right fit on bike helmets — particularly important for kid riders. We sourced some excellent guides to get you up to speed on bike helmet safety.

Don’t let your season be ruined by theft. Check out our posts on protecting your bicycle from bike thieves and get the scoop on what you need to know about insurance for your bike to protect your investment.

It’s also a good idea to brush up on bicycle safety – a 2014 report on biking fatalities shows the high risk groups and problems that can occur. Bike safety is important for everybody but particularly important for kids – check out these handy resources.

See our 2016 Bike Month tool kit post for links to bike clubs in New England and some helpful videos for prepping your bike for the season.

A just-for-fun springtime post: Dancing cows


We didn’t set out to make our blog theme for the spring be “animals on parade” but sometimes on the web, you just have to take advantage of the fun and interesting things that surface. A few weeks ago, we brought you the story of 1,000 working ducks. Today, we can’t resist this story of a group of happy, dancing cows.

In an annual seasonal ritual, a farm in the Netherlands celebrates the springtime with something they call “Koeiendans” which, as near as we can tell, is Dutch for “cow dancing.” It marks the first day after a long winter being cooped up that the cows are let out of the barn to frolic in the fields – and frolic they do. Check out how they express their delight at seeing all that lovely, fresh green grass by kicking up their heels. Who’d have guessed that cows could be quite so light on their feet? I think most of us in New England can relate to the happy feeling that the end of winter and the start of beautiful spring weather inspires!

We’re posting one clip for 2017 and one for 2016 – but if you must have more, you can check out the farm’s YouTube channel for spring cow dancing back to 2012.

And before we share the clips – we can’t resist a little plug for supporting your local family farms this growing season – eat local, eat fresh. And if these clips motivate you, consider a farm or ranch stay for your next vacation: Here’s a regional guide to New England Farm & Ranch Stays.