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Financial management

Should you add beneficiaries to your accounts?

Designating your beneficiaries is an important financial matter, so be sure to make your decisions carefully.
3 minute read

What types of accounts do you have?

Your options for whether and by what method to add beneficiaries to your accounts depend on the accounts that you hold.


The beneficiary designations that you make on a retirement account like an IRA generally supersede any other instructions you leave, including your will. So if your will states that your spouse is your IRA beneficiary, but the IRA itself designates your children as your beneficiaries, your children will inherit your IRA.

If you don't designate beneficiaries for your IRA, your assets will pass to your spouse (if you're married at the time of your death) or your estate (if you're not married at the time of your death).

Learn more about adding beneficiaries to your IRAs

Beneficiaries & backup beneficiaries

A beneficiary receives your assets after your death. Your beneficiary must survive you (or be a charity or an existing trust). A backup or contingent beneficiary will inherit your assets only if you have no surviving beneficiaries.

Nonretirement accounts

The decision whether to name beneficiaries on your nonretirement accounts should be made in the context of your estate plan. Depending on the choices you've already made, your nonretirement accounts may not need beneficiaries. Consult an estate-planning attorney to determine what's best for you.

Learn more about adding beneficiaries to your nonretirement accounts

Joint accounts

Your Vanguard joint accounts don't need beneficiaries. Joint accounts simply pass to the surviving owner.


The beneficiaries you select for your IRA won't carry over to your nonretirement account, or vice versa. But if you have multiple Vanguard IRAs of the same type—for example, 2 traditional IRAs—the beneficiaries you designate on one of them will carry over to all of them.

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Designate beneficiaries

Are you inheriting a Vanguard account?

Vanguard understands your legacy

Designate beneficiaries

Are you inheriting a Vanguard account?

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