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Helping you, a beneficiary, through the inheritance process

You’ve learned you’re a beneficiary and will inherit money that's held at Vanguard from someone. We know this is an emotional time, but know that we're here to help. Below you’ll find a general overview of the important things you should know.

 

What it means to be a beneficiary
Being named a beneficiary means that someone has passed away and they've named you as the person to receive all or a portion of their assets.

 

Foundational knowledge for beneficiaries
One thing to keep in mind when inheriting assets as a beneficiary at Vanguard is this: it's not like inheriting the money from a life insurance policy.
 

With life insurance policies, you’re often able to have a check sent to you as cash. But inheriting accounts with Vanguard (and other similar financial institutions) will work a little differently. You’ll first need to transfer the ownership of the account from the person who passed away to yourself. Think of it like transferring the ownership of a car that you bought from a friend or relative: you need to complete the right paperwork to re-register it in your name before you can call it your own. 
 

Once that transfer—or re-registration—is complete, you’ll be able to use the assets as you wish: taking withdrawals or changing the investments however you'd like. You’ll just want to remember that selling investments may have tax consequences, so we usually suggest consulting a tax advisor first.

 

Account types & transferring ownership

Often, the person who passed away will have owned an "account" at Vanguard. That account could be a non-retirement account (i.e., a general savings account like an individual account in their name, or a joint account in their name and someone else's name), a retirement account (i.e., a traditional IRA), or both.


And inside those non-retirement and retirement accounts are investments—things like mutual funds, stocks, and bonds.


These accounts—and the investments inside these accounts—will be registered to and owned by the person who passed away. The first step toward accessing the assets as a beneficiary, then, is to provide the right documentation to Vanguard so that we can transfer the assets in the account from the person who passed away to you.

 

But where do you get started?
Normally, the first step is finding a recent statement for the person who passed away. On that statement, you’ll see all the types of accounts they may have had. You’ll see non-retirement accounts—like individual accounts, joint accounts, and trust accounts. And retirement accounts—like traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs.


It's important to distinguish between the two because Vanguard will need you, the beneficiary, to provide different documentation for non-retirement accounts than for retirement accounts. Here's some more information about the most common account types you could inherit. 

  • Individual account: This is what's known as a "general savings" account for one person. More specifically, it's a non-retirement account registered in the deceased person's name only.

  • Joint account: This is what's known as a "general savings" account for more than one person. More specifically, it's a non-retirement account registered in the deceased person's name and someone else's name (and maybe others as well).

  • Traditional individual retirement account, or Traditional IRA: This is one of the standard accounts that lets someone save for retirement. More specifically, it's a retirement account registered in the deceased person's name only.

  • Roth individual retirement account, or Roth IRA: This is one of the standard accounts that lets someone save for retirement. More specifically, it's a retirement account registered in the deceased person's name only

There are other account types, of course. But these tend to be the most common.

 

Completing inheritance transfers online
We offer the ability to make some inheritance transfers online. It’s only available for certain account types at the moment. If you'd like to begin online, you can start by click the link below.