Desperate Housewives Star Passes Away; Leaves Behind Important Retirement Planning Lesson

By Jeffery Levine, IRA Technical Expert  

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: @IRAGuru4EdSlott

Kathryn Joosten passed away from lung cancer at the age of 72 last Friday. That name may not sound familiar to everyone, but fans of the hit TV show Desperate Housewives will recognize Joosten as the actress who played Karen McCluckey. And fans of retirement accounts will remember Kathryn for a slightly different reason. What in the world could an actress on Desperate Housewives have to do with retirement accounts? Funny “you” should ask.

A number of years ago, Joosten’s character on Desperate Housewives, McCluskey, ran into a little problem that anyone with a retirement account should pay close attention to these days. The plot was essentially as follows; Joosten’s character had the unfortunate occurrence of discovering her husband had passed away. However, since it was the middle of the night, her character decided it would be best to wait until the morning to notify the appropriate authorities. But after making such a disheartening discovery, one would hardly be in a mood to sleep, right? So what did Joosten’s character do? She decided to get a head start on going through the massive amount of paperwork she was likely to face.

And then, IT happened. While going through her now deceased husband’s paperwork, she discovered the beneficiary form for her husband’s retirement plan… and lo and behold, she was not the beneficiary. Who was it? Only the worst possible person from her point of view of course, none other than his ex-wife! (Here is another example of an outdated beneficiary form proving costly.)

This, of course, left Joosten’s character with a big problem. She needed the retirement money to live on, but if she reported her husband as deceased, those payments weren’t going to be hers anymore. So what did she do? The only thing she could. She stuck her husband’s body in the freezer and went right on cashing his checks as normal! Until, that is, the ruse she was running was discovered.

Now this may only be fiction, but most fiction is based, in part, on some sort of truth. The beneficiary form is the single most important document there is when it comes to your retirement accounts. It determines who will get your retirement accounts when you are no longer here – not your will – and, because it makes a difference in whether or not beneficiaries get the “stretch,” it determines, in part, how much the account is even worth.

If you make a mistake, it’s unlikely your beneficiaries are going to stuff you in the freezer and go on like nothing happened, but like Joosten’s character, they too may be left without the funds they were truly counting on. So, in a statement I’d never really expect to make… take a retirement planning tip from this Desperate Housewives episode and make sure to double check your beneficiary forms today.

Rest in Peace Kathryn Joosten, and thanks for the laughs.


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