A beneficiary is the person or financial institution (a trust fund, for instance) you name in a life insurance policy to receive the proceeds. In addition to naming a specific beneficiary, you should name a second or “contingent” beneficiary, in case you outlive the first beneficiary.

If there is no living beneficiary, the proceeds will go to your estate. If there are probate proceedings this could possibly delay your loved ones receiving the money. The proceeds may also be subject to estate taxes.

Pay special attention to the wording of your beneficiary designations to ensure that the right person receives the proceeds of your estate. If you write “wife/husband of the insured” without using a specific name, an ex-spouse could receive the proceeds. On the other hand, if you have named specific children, any later-born or adopted children will not receive the proceeds – unless the beneficiary designation is changed.