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What happens to beneficiary designations after divorce

On Behalf of | Jun 25, 2018 | Divorce

If a Virginia resident gets a divorce, it is important to make sure the estate plan is consistent with the divorce agreement. Often, people forget to remove an ex-spouse from a beneficiary designation, and this can result in assets such as retirement accounts or life insurance policies going to an ex-spouse instead of to whom the person had intended.

One man’s father divorced his wife and did not leave a will although he had verbally informed his son that he and his older brother, who is disabled, would be taken care of. Divorce papers stated that the life insurance plan was the father’s property, but he did not take his ex-wife off as beneficiary, and she was paid the money.

Since the ex-spouse signed an agreement regarding the life insurance policy, it may be possible for the son in this case to go to court. However, the ex-wife must be located, and the entire process could be a long and costly one. If the ex-wife had not signed the agreement, she would probably still be entitled to the payout since divorce does not automatically cancel a beneficiary designation. In 2017, an appeals court in a similar case upheld a decision that a life insurance policy should go to a daughter as agreed in a divorce decree and not the uncle named on the beneficiary designation.

People who are not yet divorced should check with an attorney before making a change to an asset that has a beneficiary designation. It may not be possible to remove a spouse if the divorce is not yet final. People who have children from a previous relationship may need to be particularly careful when negotiating property division to ensure that those children are still able to receive the parent’s assets. An attorney may be able to assist a person in negotiating this agreement.