Asked in Probate and Estate Planning for New York

Q: Do distributions have to be made to all beneficiaries at the same time?

I was just told by my deceased mothers financial advisor that distribution from her accounts have to be made to all beneficiaries at the same time. We are talking about an IRA and a Brokerage account both of which have designated beneficiaries named.

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1 Lawyer Answer

A: This may be true. Generally speaking, brokerage firms and custodians of retirement accounts have contractual terms in the account agreement regarding the timing of distributions to named beneficiaries after the death of an account holder. Additionally, depending on state and federal law, and the type of account, the institution may have fiduciary duties to all named beneficiaries. That would mean that it cannot give preferential treatment to one beneficiary to the detriment of another. Complications may arise if there is a "moving target" as to the account valuation and a percent distribution to multiple beneficiaries.

If you are running into difficulties in communicating with the firm's customer service representative, you might consider contacting an estate planning attorney or securities litigation attorney.

Estate planning attorneys frequently deal with brokerage firms and retirement account custodians, and it could just be a matter of connecting to the right department to clear things up. Alternatively, if a firm is inappropriately withholding distributions to named beneficiaries, a securities attorney may get the firm's attention to take corrective action.

Good luck!

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