Is an ex-spouse entitled to your retirement benefits if you die?

In a recent post on this blog, we discussed which of your family members are likely to receive your retirement funds after your death. To recap, it would usually be your spouse or adult children who receive your benefits from a 401(k) or Individual Retirement Account. However, you might have reason to worry that an ex-spouse would receive your retirement benefits, even if you have been divorced for years. How might you and other Detroit residents avoid the possibility of an ex receiving benefits that you would like to designate to more immediate family members?

According to ABC News, you probably would not have to worry very much about funds from your 401(k) plan going to an ex; usually, it is the current spouse who receives these benefits after the death of the account holder. However, the beneficiary of your IRA is the person who was the beneficiary when you first set up the account. If you did so when you were previously married, the beneficiary might still be the person who is now your ex.

How can you prevent this from happening? It is advised that you update all your important legal documents, including your will, retirement accounts and other estate planning after a significant life change, such as a divorce, remarriage or death of a beneficiary. It might also be a good idea to designate secondary beneficiaries in case your primary beneficiary passes away first. The information in this blog should not take the place of legal advice.