Many types of assets ask you to name a beneficiary. They include IRAs, life insurance policies, annuities, payable on death accounts, and transfer on death accounts. Such assets go to the beneficiary you name, regardless of what’s in your will.

Suppose, for example, that Alice Brown established an IRA while she was working. Alice named her husband Evan as the beneficiary of the IRA. Then Alice divorced Evan after a few years and eventually remarried. She had two children with her second husband.

Unfortunately, Alice never changed the beneficiary designation of her IRA. When she died, the account went to her ex-husband, still the named beneficiary, not to her widower or her children.

It’s possible that the current spouse in such situations could challenge the payout but the outcome of such a dispute is by no means certain. Thus, it’s critically important to check all of your beneficiary designations periodically and to revise them, if necessary.

Special care should be taken with IRA beneficiary designations. If handled properly, an IRA beneficiary can stretch required minimum distributions over decades, building wealth by deferring income tax. However, mishandling an inherited IRA can speed taxable withdrawals, reducing tax-deferred accumulation. You should inform your IRA beneficiaries of your plans and suggest they work closely with the IRA custodian after they inherit.

With an IRA you’ll either use the beneficiary form that’s provided or create a customized form. That’s only the beginning, though. Other steps to take:

* Send two copies of the form to your IRA custodian (probably a bank, broker, or mutual fund company) via certified mail with a return receipt.

* Request that the custodian acknowledge receipt and return the acknowledged copy in a self-addressed return envelope that you have furnished.

* Keep this acknowledged copy in the same place as your will and other key documents.

Why go to all this bother? Because IRA beneficiary forms have been known to be lost or not properly recorded by IRA custodians. If you keep your form accessible, eventually it may be retrieved and used to instruct the custodian on your IRA’s disposition.