Q: My husband of seven years told me that he added me as his beneficiary after we were married. But I've learned that his ex-wife is still listed as his beneficiary. Can this be changed, and if so, can it be back-dated from the date of our marriage license?
A: Beneficiary designations never have to be back-dated. The only beneficiary that matters is the one listed on the account when its owner dies. And yes, of course he can change his beneficiary designation to name his current spouse!
You don’t say what kind of account this is. If it’s an Individual Retirement Account, he can name any beneficiary he wants unless you live in a community property state. (However, if you live in a community property state, as his current wife you may already own half of his IRA.)
If you’re talking about an account in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, such as a 401(k), as his current spouse you're entitled by federal law to be his beneficiary. He can't name anyone else unless you relinquish that entitlement in a written statement kept by the plan administrator. (More about that here.)
But it's up to your husband to update his 401(k) beneficiary designations. Given his track record on completing this task, you may want to drop a note to the 401(k) plan administrator asking them to make sure he changes his 401(k) paperwork to reflect the fact that you are the current Mrs. Jones.
Please send your questions to Lynn@LynnBrennersFamilyFinance.com. I'm sorry I can't respond personally to every email. Questions are only addressed online.
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