Yet another client who was named as the solo beneficiary on a parents retirement account, with the understanding that the child would "take care of his siblings".
Yes, often people will designate one child to be "in charge". That is appropriate with a will because the Personal Representative distributes assets according to the will - they don't inherit it all. But, when only one child is named as a beneficiary, that child inherits everything. And if the share that they want to pass along to their siblings is greater than the gift tax exemption ($13,000 in 2009), then the child is responsible for the gift tax. If they inherit it, they own it, and are now giving it away.
This can be avoided if beneficiary forms list ALL for the people who are intended to inherit. This means if you have 4 children and they should all receive 25%, then all 4 need to be listed on the beneficiary form.
Estate planning is a complex and ever changing area of the law. It is always best to seek the counsel of a skilled attorney.