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James D. Madden & Aruna P. Rodrigo, Family Law Attorneys

Automatically Revoking Your Spouse's Beneficiary Designation 07-22-2016

Automatically Revoking Your Spouse's Beneficiary Designation

Before you and your spouse begin the process of legally separating, it’s important to note that automatically revoking your spouse’s designation as your beneficiary may violate the spousal death benefit rules in your retirement plan.

Unless your spouse has consented to your waiving of the spousal benefit, qualified retirement plans are required to pay for 50% or more (100% in profit-sharing plans) of the death benefits to the participant’s spouse. No matter who the participant designates as their beneficiary, these rules, known as qualified pre-retirement survivor annuity (QPSA) rules, will apply.

While certain plans are designed to revoke the participant’s spousal beneficiary designation automatically following a divorce or legal separation, a legal separation will only eliminate the need for spousal consent if the participant chooses to waive the spousal death benefit in order to select a new beneficiary. The only ways that a separated spouse will no longer receive the benefit is if the participant both waives their death benefit and selects a new beneficiary.

Even though a legal separation removes the need for spousal consent in order to waive the spousal death benefit, automatic revocation language cannot satisfy waiver rules alone. Under the QPSA rules[1], automatic revocation has no effect on the legally separated spouse’s rights to death benefits. The automatic revocation language in a plan can frequently lead to the faulty belief that it eliminates the death benefit rights of a legally separated spouse, which can lead to the wrong person receiving death benefits from a plan administrator.

The IRS, in an attempt to prevent confusion in the future, is no longer allowing pre-approved plans to include automatic revocation language involving spousal beneficiary designation following a legal separation[2]. This language needs to either be eliminated completely from individually designed plans, or must make clear that the automatic revocation doesn’t affect the QPSA death benefit rights of your spouse. These changes do not affect the automatic revocation of your spouse’s designation as your beneficiary following a divorce.

If you are seeking a legal separation, it may be in your best interest to contact a qualified legal expert to assist you. The San Bernardino family law attorneys at James D. Madden & Aruna P. Rodrigo, Family Law Attorneys understand how difficult this situation can be, and have the experience and knowledge necessary to help you reach the best possible outcome. Contact us today for a free case consultation, or give us a call at (909) 344-5704 to set up a meeting with one of our lawyers.

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