A:

The rules vary among retirement benefits. In some cases, because you are the current spouse, you will be treated as the beneficiary by default. This would be so even if your spouse named someone else as the beneficiary. However, a named beneficiary may challenge the default provisions, resulting in costly legal fees and a delay in your receipt of the inherited assets.

To clear up any doubts, your spouse should check with his plan's administrator about the rules that apply to their benefits. For starters, you should ensure that your spouse updates all documents to reflect any changes to beneficiary designations. They should also ask for written confirmation that the changes were made. Or, if no change is necessary, your spouse can provide a written confirmation of the current beneficiaries on record. Cases of "lost" documentation - including changes in beneficiary designations - are all too common. Usually, no one realizes these documents are lost until they're needed to determine proper allocation or disbursement of assets to beneficiaries.

For related reading, see Getting A Divorce?: Understand The Rules Of Dividing Plan Assets and Marriage, Divorce And The Dotted Line.

This question was answered by Denise Appleby
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