Update named beneficiaries of "pay on death" accounts

Plan for the Future

Several accounts pass outside of probate, meaning that their assets will go directly to your chosen beneficiaries, typically your spouse and other immediate relatives.

After a death, a deceased's physical belongings and other estate assets are distributed to beneficiaries through a legal process called probate.

However, certain assets can be more easily transferred to a designated person directly, without having to go through the probate.

Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Life insurance policies with a designated Beneficiary
  • Property held jointly in Title with Survivorship Rights (real estate, vehicles, boats, etc)
  • Bank accounts, 401(k)s & IRAs designated as Pay-On-Death (POD)
  • Stocks, bonds & securities designated as Transfer-On-Death (TOD)

To facilitate these automatic transfers, update settings and preferences for each account.

With some life insurance policies and most retirement accounts, these plan providers require you to name a beneficiary or change a beneficiary using their specific forms. These beneficiaries can be updated at any time, but should always be updated with any major life change.

Examples of life changes include:

  • Birth of a new child or grandchild
  • Adoption of a child
  • Marriage
  • Divorce
  • Death of a beneficiary

Contact the life insurance company over the phone to ask for a beneficiary designation form. They can email, fax, or mail one to you.

You will need to provide a signature for these changes and send that form back to the insurance company. It make take a few business days for the submitted changes to take effect.

Personal Considerations


Do you have life insurance?


Contact the insurance carrier to verify your listed beneficiaries.

If you submit a change request, verify it has been recorded properly.

Make sure to name a “contingent beneficiary” or the person who will receive funds if your primary beneficiary passes away.

You can allot a certain percentage of your policy to each chosen beneficiary.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Do not forget to update beneficiaries on any employer-owned policies.


Consider purchasing a policy to provide additional financial support to your loved ones.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on this process, review the task, “Establish accounts with named beneficiaries / pay on death accounts”.


If you have life insurance:

Contact the insurance carrier to verify your listed beneficiaries.

If you submit a change request, verify it has been recorded properly.

Make sure to name a “contingent beneficiary” or the person who will receive funds if your primary beneficiary passes away.

You can allot a certain percentage of your policy to each chosen beneficiary.

Exclamation_Icon.svgImportant Do not forget to update beneficiaries on any employer-owned policies.

If you do not have life insurance:

Consider purchasing a policy to provide additional financial support to your loved ones.

Guides_Icon.svgRead More For more information on this process, review the task, “Establish accounts with named beneficiaries / pay on death accounts”.


Are you or have you ever been married?


If you're divorced, update accounts where they may have been listed as beneficiaries.

If a person gets divorced, the divorce settlement agreement may state that neither party has any right to inherit their ex-spouse’s assets.

If the deceased’s will still names their ex-spouse as an executor, heir, or beneficiary it is wise to locate their divorce documents, because those documents might correct the error.

However, if the divorce documents do not reference anything about inheritance, the heirs of the deceased (such as their children) may have to contest the validity of the deceased’s will.

To do so, the heirs may have to file a lawsuit in the county and state where the deceased lived.


Make sure you have named beneficiaries on any life insurance policies.


If you are or have ever been married:

If you're divorced, update accounts where they may have been listed as beneficiaries.

If a person gets divorced, the divorce settlement agreement may state that neither party has any right to inherit their ex-spouse’s assets.

If the deceased’s will still names their ex-spouse as an executor, heir, or beneficiary it is wise to locate their divorce documents, because those documents might correct the error.

However, if the divorce documents do not reference anything about inheritance, the heirs of the deceased (such as their children) may have to contest the validity of the deceased’s will.

To do so, the heirs may have to file a lawsuit in the county and state where the deceased lived.

If you are not and have not ever been married:

Make sure you have named beneficiaries on any life insurance policies.


Do you have financial investment accounts?


Contact each provider to verify the listed beneficiaries.

Update these beneficiaries as appropriate in light of any major life changes.


Continue to review other items to plan for your estate.


If you have financial investment accounts:

Contact each provider to verify the listed beneficiaries.

Update these beneficiaries as appropriate in light of any major life changes.

If you do not have financial investment accounts,:

Continue to review other items to plan for your estate.

Providers to Contact


Estate Attorneys Near You

Estate planning attorneys can help you plan for your incapacity or death. They can also help you find ways to transfer assets outside of the legal probate process.

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Plan for the Future