Published April 19, 2021|3 min read
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Once you own a life insurance policy, keeping it up to date is one of the most important things you can do to financially protect your family. That includes making sure you have all the coverage you need and that your beneficiary designations are correct.
Only the policyholder can change a life insurance policy’s beneficiaries in most cases. Here’s how and when to make a beneficiary change, and when you might need another person’s sign-off.
The owner is generally the only person who can change a life insurance policy’s beneficiaries
If you have an irrevocable beneficiary or live in a community property state you may need approval to make policy changes
A power of attorney can give someone else the ability to change your beneficiaries
The policyholder is usually the only person allowed to make changes to your life insurance beneficiaries.
If you’ve granted someone a power of attorney—a legal document that lets someone make financial, legal, or medical decisions on your behalf—they may have the right to change your beneficiaries. No one can change beneficiary designations after the insured dies.
There are two circumstances when you need another person’s permission to update a beneficiary: if the policyholder lives in a community property state or if they designated an irrevocable beneficiary.
If you live in a community property state and bought your policy after you got married, you’ll also need your spouse’s permission if you plan to name someone other than them as your beneficiary. Community property states include:
Community property laws do not give your spouse the right to change your beneficiaries. If you’re unsure about who can make changes to your life insurance policy, speak with an attorney specializing in estate planning.
You can designate any of your life insurance beneficiaries as revocable or irrevocable. Revocable beneficiaries are most common and can be changed at any time. Irrevocable beneficiaries cannot be removed from a policy without their approval.
Some irrevocable beneficiaries may have approval over any changes to your policy, including adding or removing other beneficiaries and coverage increases or decreases.
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You can change the beneficiaries of your life insurance by contacting your insurance company. You’ll need to submit a change of beneficiary form online, on paper, or over the phone. The form will ask for personal information about your beneficiary, such as:
Date of birth
Full legal name
Relationship to you
Social Security number
You can also choose:
How the death benefit is distributed among beneficiaries: You control what percentage of the death benefit each person gets and how their percentage is split if they die and the other beneficiaries live.
Whether someone is a primary or contingent beneficiary: Contingent beneficiaries accept life insurance proceeds if all the primary beneficiaries are unable to do so.
Make sure you inform your new beneficiary of your policy and where to find your coverage documents in case they need to file a claim.
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Keeping your policy’s beneficiaries updated ensures that your death benefit goes to the right people. It’s always smart to review your policy regularly, but you should consider adjusting your coverage after any big life event, such as:
Birth or adoption of a child
Death of a beneficiary
Marriage or divorce
If you never change your beneficiary and they predecease you, your life insurance proceeds will pay out to a contingent beneficiary or your estate. Once the payout becomes part of your estate, a court decides who gets the funds. The proceedings can be expensive and lengthy for your family.
Providing for the people who will benefit from your life insurance policy is why you buy coverage in the first place. As long as you own your policy and haven’t legally given permission to anyone else, you’re the only person who can change the beneficiaries of your life insurance policy.
Only the policy owner can add or remove beneficiaries unless someone has been granted permission through a power of attorney.
Your spouse can’t change your beneficiaries unless they own your policy or have been legally granted power of attorney to do so.
You can’t change named beneficiaries after the insured person dies. If they died while a change was processing, the insurer will decide who the beneficiaries are based on their guidelines.
If you live in a community property state you may need your spouse’s approval to name a beneficiary other than them. If you have an irrevocable beneficiary you need their sign-off to remove them from your policy.
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