Life insurance beneficiary vs will

Mom with kid playing outdoors during the winter

Having a life insurance policy is an important part of your financial plan. It can offer you and your loved one’s peace of mind. For many Canadians, having a will is another part of their financial plan to protect and provide for their families. It may seem difficult to understand how all these elements work together, particularly when naming insurance beneficiaries.

Canadians usually think of the term beneficiary as relating to the person who inherits your possessions. They are usually named in your will. However, your life insurance policy also allows you to designate a beneficiary. This individual will receive the death payment, a lump sum, when you pass away.

Let’s look at how an insurance beneficiary is appointed and whether or not your will impacts the death benefit.

What is the difference between a will and a life insurance policy?

Life insurance policies and wills are very different documents. Although they both deal with what to do after you pass away, each is an essential component of your estate plan. In other words, it’s best to have both life insurance policies and a will to protect your loved ones. Here’s why.

What is a life insurance policy?

A life insurance policy is an agreement you make with an insurance company. This agreement states that when you purchase life insurance and make monthly payments for your insurance, when you pass away your beneficiaries will be paid a death benefit. This death benefit is a lump sum that can help your loved ones with costs they face after you’re gone if they’ve been named as your life insurance beneficiary. It can include funeral expenses or money to cover everyday expenses such as mortgage payments, college, etc.

What is a will?

A will is a document that states how you would like your assets to be divided and who will become the guardian of any underage children you leave behind. In a will, you appoint an individual to oversee the execution of your final wishes. This individual may or may not be a beneficiary of your will.

Do I need a will and life insurance?

How you arrange your estate plan is entirely up to you, but because a will and insurance are two distinct components it is a good idea to include both. With life insurance, your beneficiaries get a lump sum of money that is not a part of your estate. A will, on the other hand, deals with property and belongings you already own or have in your possession.

Probate and life insurance

When someone passes away, their will needs to go through probate. This is a legal process where a court verifies that your will is indeed your final wishes. Probate makes your will valid and is necessary in most cases. Without probate, your estate may not be distributed.

One of the advantages of life insurance is that it does not need to go through the probate process. Rather, your beneficiaries will receive the death benefit sooner than an inheritance from your will.

Can my life insurance policy undermine my will?Can my life insurance policy undermine my will?

So, what happens if you name a beneficiary in your will that is not the same person that you name as your insurance beneficiary? In short, nothing. Your insurance and your will are two distinct documents, and they cannot undermine one another. In other words, you can name a beneficiary for your life insurance that is different from the beneficiary of your will. They will be be given what you allocated to them.

How to designate a life insurance beneficiary

When indicating to your insurance company who your beneficiary will be, it’s a good idea to name at least two people. These will be the primary beneficiary and the contingent beneficiary. A primary beneficiary is the first person that will receive the death benefit. The contingent beneficiary would be second in line to get the death benefit if the primary beneficiary could not or did not want the funds. However, you can name as many people as you want as beneficiaries on your life insurance policy. You can simply indicate the percentage of the death benefit that each beneficiary receives when you pass away.

You are also able to name a trust as a beneficiary of your insurance. A trust is a special account you can set up for beneficiaries of your will. It is often used to put money away for your children if they are underage. Trusts secure assets and inheritance until your child reaches a certain age.

When considering who to designate as your insurance beneficiary, think about those who would be negatively impacted financially if you were to suddenly pass away. And be specific. Rather than naming “my children”, list their names and contact details. In the same way, if you want the death benefit to be paid out to a specific charity, name the charity and provide the contact information.

What to consider when appointing life insurance beneficiaries

There are some factors that you should think about when naming beneficiaries of your insurance, such as:


Your beneficiary does not need to live in the same country as you but be sure their contact details are up to date on your policy. It’s important to know that not every country considers death benefits as non-taxable. So, it’s possible your beneficiary could be expected to pay taxes on their portion of the death benefit.

Additional family

It’s important to reflect on potential changes to your family when identifying beneficiaries. If you’ve named your children as your beneficiaries but they have children, you’ll want to ensure your grandchildren receive some of the death benefit too. While this may be difficult to predict, it helps to update your insurance and will regularly so no one is overlooked.

Can I appoint my children as beneficiaries?

Although you can name your children as beneficiaries of your life insurance policy, it may not be the best choice for all of life insurance payment. If both parents are gone, who will raise the children? Will they need any money to take on that responsibilty well?

Insurance companies will not pay benefits to those underage. However, if you want your children to be the ones to benefit from your insurance there are two options:

1. Name a Trustee.

The Trustee will be in charge of protecting the death benefit money until your children are old enough to claim it themselves. This is relatively simple and much less money than settleing a trust with a lawyer.

2. Set up a trust.

Set up a trust through your will and appoint the trust as a beneficiary of your life insurance. With trust, you can have a little more control over when the insurance proceeds are released to your children. You can restrict it by age or dole out the money little by little, so they don’t make a mistake and lose it all.

It’s also vital to understand, that designating a special needs or lifelong dependent child as a beneficiary can hinder their qualification for government assistance programs. Rather, set up a trust and name the trust your beneficiary. That way, child can still receive the death benefit but it won’t impact their ability to access other social supports.

As stated before, if you do decide to appoint your children as your life insurance beneficiaries be sure to use their full name in your policy. Some people are not very specific and simply state “my children”, which can lead to some problems after you’ve passed. You should also be precise about the amount each of your beneficiaries will receive from the life insurance. You can designated percentages of the death claim to your beneficiaries, they don’t all need to receive the same amount. You may have some of your children who will need more financial support than others.

What if I want to change my life insurance beneficiary?

It is possible to change your life insurance beneficiary at any time and for any reason. You’ll need to get in touch with your life insurance company and request the proper form. Fill it out and send it back. There may be a waiting period as the paperwork is processed, but your insurance company will let you know when your beneficiaries have been changed.

However, if your life insurance policy had a irrevocable beneficiary, you won’t be able to make any changes unless that person consents. It’s best not to buy this type of life insurance policy, even if you think that person will be a beneficiary your whole life. Things happen and relationships can change, most notably, in the case of a divorce. You don’t want to be stuck with your ex-spouse as your life insurance beneficiary.
Review your life insurance policy regularly and update your beneficiaries if and when things change.

What if my beneficiary dies before I do?

If one of the beneficiaries of your life insurance policy dies before or at the same time as you, the remaining beneficiaries would receive the death benefit. However, they will need the death certificates of any beneficiaries who’ve already passed away. These can be included with the claim application.

If you did not designate multiple beneficiaries and your beneficiary passed away, the life insurance payments would transfer into your estate. It would then be managed by the instructions of your will.

How beneficiaries make a life insurance claim

When you pass away, your beneficiaries will need to make a claim on your life insurance to receive the death benefit. Be sure to provide them each with a copy of your life insurance policy and the name and contact details of the insurance company.

To make a claim, your beneficiaries will also need to gather documentation to support their application, such as:

It’s important to know that if you have multiple beneficiaries named on your life insurance policy, they will each need to claim their amount separately. In other words, each beneficiary makes a separate application for their portion of the death benefit.

After the application has been made, the insurance company will review it and issue the death benefit payment, as long as there were no issues with the claim application. This process can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks to complete.

What happens to life insurance proceeds if I have no beneficiary?

In some rare cases, you may have no beneficiary. This could be because they’ve all passed away before you did or you didn’t name anyone, then the life insurance proceeds will go to your estate. Once this happens, the death benefit will become part of your estate, which needs to go through probate after you pass away. And, as part of the estate, the life insurance death benefit could be used to pay off your debts rather than benefit your family.

Is life insurance right for you?

Looking ahead and developing a plan to protect your loved ones is the right thing to do. There are several factors that go into creating a solid estate plan, including having a will and a life insurance policy.

If you’re wondering about whether life insurance is the right choice for you, consider what you want for your beneficiaries. With a will, your loved ones could wait a long time before they benefit from your estate.

When someone dies, the estate usually has to go through probate and this can take some time. The courts will need to look at whether your will is valid or not, and it can be delayed if there is contention among your family or someone contests your will.

Buying a life insurance policy can provide your family with more immediate support and finances. They can use this money to cover funeral expenses, mortgage payments, credit card debt, or any other need they have. And it doesn’t need to go through a lengthy court process.

Why choose Maple Bay?

At Maple Bay, you’ll be working with a life insurance broker who is dedicated to finding you the right insurance for your family. We know that providing for your life insurance beneficiaries is your first priority.

Our insurance agents have over 100 years of collective experience in the Canadian life insurance industry. And we know how to find the best life insurance policy for your unique situation.

When you need to find the right coverage for your loved ones, contact Maple Bay Insurance.



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