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My now deceased wife left her ex-husband as her retirement plan beneficiary. Clearly, it was an oversight. Can this be changed?


I’m sorry to hear about your situation. In most cases, as you would expect, the named beneficiary is entitled to the proceeds; otherwise what’s the point of all that fine print and signing on the bottom line? But your wife’s divorce decree is an important legal document too. In a recent case in New Jersey with circumstances somewhat similar to yours, an appellate court acknowledged the importance of the pension beneficiary designation but also noted that the divorce decree contained a waiver foregoing future property rights. The court’s wisdom-of-Solomon solution was to split the pension assets between the surviving spouse and the deceased pension holder’s ex-spouse.
Chances are that the law will vary from state to state, as many legal matters relating to marriage do, and that your likelihood of success will depend greatly on the relevant wording in your wife’s divorce decree. This is a thorny conundrum. Assuming that the amount of money involved is substantial and that you are prepared for some emotional difficulty at a trying time, you really should consult an attorney.
Good luck.
-Conrad de Aenlle