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Does a will change named beneficiaries for life insurance policies, pensions, and similar accounts?

UPDATED: June 19, 2018

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No. Each life insurance policy has a named beneficiary or beneficiaries. Bank accounts might have a pay-on-death instruction, and a pension plan like an IRA or a 401(k) usually has a designated beneficiary. The beneficiaries named in these policies and accounts have a legal right to the money when you die. Nothing you say in your will changes that.

For example, if you named your sister as the beneficiary of your life insurance policy before you had children, didn’t change that beneficiary designation with the insurance company after the children were born, but say in your will that you want the proceeds of your life insurance policy to be divided equally among your three children, your sister will get all the proceeds if you die, and your children will get nothing. If you set up a savings account at the bank as a pay-on-death account to be paid to your nephew, but say in your will that you want your money, most of which is in that savings account, to be divided equally between your cousin and the local animal shelter, your nephew will get the money in the account, and your cousin and the animal shelter will have to split whatever other money you had.

You do have a right to change beneficiaries during your life. In order to do this you have to fill out the appropriate form with the entities where the policies and accounts are located. You need to deal directly with the insurance company, the bank, and the sponsor of your pension plan if you want to change the beneficiaries.

See our article on How To Change a Beneficiary on a Life Insurance Policy for more information.

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