It depends.

Generally speaking, the designation of beneficiary form dictates who receives the assets from the individual retirement account (IRA). Therefore, no one else is entitled to receive any share of the IRA unless the named beneficiaries choose to disclaim their portions. However, if the IRA contributor resides in a community property state and the spouse did not approve the designation of beneficiary, he or she may be entitled to a portion of the IRA. Under the laws of these states, the spouse must be the primary designated beneficiary, unless he or she consents to another party being the primary designated beneficiary. The community and marital property states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin.

If the contributor resides in one of these states, you'll need to check with the custodian to determine whether the proper approval was obtained from you (as the contributor's spouse). If the proper approval was obtained or if the contributor did not reside in one of these states, then the designated beneficiaries will be able to take possession of your share of the IRA.

Note that even if the contributor resides in a community property state, the IRA (or a portion of it) may still not be subject to the community property laws if the balance was accrued before the person was married. To be sure, check with a local attorney who specializes in estate planning or tax law.

(For more on IRA beneficiary designations, see Update Your Beneficiaries and Problematic Beneficiary Designations - Parts 1 and 2.)

This question was answered by Denise Appleby
(Contact Denise)

  1. If an individual still has his or her former spouse as the beneficiary of an IRA, ...

    It depends. Generally, divorce does not effectively change a beneficiary designation unless the divorce decree makes a stipulation ... Read Answer >>
  2. My spouse is the primary beneficiary of my IRA. I also have a contingent beneficiary. ...

    A spouse who is the sole primary beneficiary of an IRA can always treat the IRA as his or her own. The contingent beneficiary ... Read Answer >>
  3. Can the non-spouse beneficiary of an IRA name a successor beneficiary?

    Whether the beneficiary of an individual retirement account (IRA) can name a successor beneficiary (second generation beneficiary) ... Read Answer >>
  4. Can an IRA beneficiary roll the IRA over into another account and designate another ...

    It depends on the provision of the IRA plan document. Some (though very few) do not allow the designation of successor beneficiaries. ... Read Answer >>
  5. Upon my death, will the beneficiaries of my IRA be compelled to take the entire amount ...

    It depends. If the beneficiary of your IRA is your spouse, he or she will be eligible to transfer the amount to his or her ... Read Answer >>
Related Articles
  1. Retirement

    Mistakes In Designating A Retirement Beneficiary

    Make sure your beneficiary designations not only reflect your intentions but also meet the requirements to be effective.
  2. Retirement

    An Estate Planning Must: Update Your Beneficiaries

    Life changes make it time to rewrite your plan's designations.
  3. Financial Advisor

    Why You Need to Find the Right IRA Beneficiary

    It definitely matters who you pick as your IRA beneficiary—and how you go about it. And in some cases, your best option may be to go with a trust.
  4. Retirement

    Designating A Trust As Retirement Beneficiary

    Designating a trust as your IRA beneficiary can be beneficial, but it requires proper planning to avoid problems.
  5. Financial Advisor

    How to Handle Client Beneficiary Designations

    Beneficiary designations are a critical financial planning step that can be easily overlooked. Here's how to ensure they are properly done.
  6. Retirement

    Who is a Beneficiary?

    A beneficiary is a person or entity that receives funds, assets, property or other benefits from a trust, will, or life insurance policy.
  7. Financial Advisor

    Why Your Will Should Name Designated Beneficiaries

    Find out how to make the tough decisions when it comes to choosing who will receive your assets and how they will be paid out.
  8. Financial Advisor

    Top Estate Planning Tips for 401(k)s and IRAs

    Here's how to avoid estate planning pitfalls when it comes to leaving IRA and 401(k) assets to heirs.
  9. Taxes

    The Tax Benefits Of Having A Spouse

    Check out the perks designed to promote and preserve your post-work savings - if you're married, that is.
  10. Managing Wealth

    Refusing An Inheritance

    Contrary to popular belief, inheriting assets isn't always a good thing. Find out what to do if you want to disclaim them.
  1. Extended IRA

    An IRA that allows a second generation beneficiary to continue ...
  2. Primary Beneficiary

    A beneficiary in a will, trust or insurance policy that is first ...
  3. Named Beneficiary

    This term refers to any beneficiary named in a will, a trust, ...
  4. Beneficiary

    Anybody who gains an advantage and/or profits from something. ...
  5. Absolute Beneficiary

    A designation of a beneficiary that can not be changed without ...
  6. Stretch IRA

    An estate planning concept that is applied to extend the financial ...
Hot Definitions
  1. Assets Under Management - AUM

    The market value of assets that an investment company manages on behalf of investors. Assets under management (AUM) is looked ...
  2. Subprime Auto Loan

    A type of auto loan approved for people with substandard credit scores or limited credit histories. There is no official ...
  3. Racketeering

    A fraudulent service built to serve a problem that wouldn't otherwise exist without the influence of the enterprise offering ...
  4. Federal Debt

    The total amount of money that the United States federal government owes to creditors. The government's creditors include ...
  5. Passive Management

    A style of management associated with mutual and exchange-traded funds (ETF) where a fund's portfolio mirrors a market index. ...
  6. Series 7

    A general securities registered representative license administered by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) ...
Trading Center