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 that your beneficiary is the person you want to get a payout when you die.
Only the policyholder can change a life insurance policy’s beneficiaries, with rare exceptions. Here’s how and when to make a beneficiary change, and when you might need another person’s sign-off.
The policy owner is the only person who can change the beneficiary designation in most cases.
If you have an irrevocable beneficiary or live in a community property state you need approval to make policy changes.
A power of attorney can give someone else the ability to change your beneficiaries.
Who can change the beneficiary of a life insurance policy?
The policyholder is the only person allowed to make changes to your life insurance beneficiaries. The only exception is if you’ve granted someone power of attorney, a legal document that lets someone make financial, legal, or medical decisions on your behalf.
Policyholders can change the beneficiaries as long as the policy is active. No one can change beneficiary designations after you die.
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 named someone as an irrevocable beneficiary.
Changing beneficiaries in a community property state
If you live in a community property state and bought your policy after you got married, you’ll 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 or will, speak with an estate planning attorney.
Revocable vs. irrevocable life insurance beneficiaries
You can name any of your life insurance beneficiaries as revocable or irrevocable. Irrevocable beneficiaries are rare. Some people may name their children, or naming a spouse as an irrevocable beneficiary could be part of a prenuptial agreement. You can change revocable beneficiaries at any time. Irrevocable beneficiaries can't 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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How to change the beneficiary of your life insurance policy
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:
Whether someone is a primary or contingent beneficiary: Contingent beneficiaries accept the death benefit if none of the primary beneficiaries can.
Make sure you tell your new beneficiary about your policy and where to find your coverage documents in case they need to file a claim.
Why updating your life insurance beneficiaries matters
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 consider adjusting your coverage after a big life event, such as:
Birth or adoption of a child
Death of a beneficiary
Marriage or divorce
Buying a home
New estate plan where trusts are being used
If you never change your beneficiary and they predecease you, your life insurance proceeds will go to a contingent beneficiary or your estate. Once the payout becomes part of your estate, a court decides who gets the money.
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.
Frequently asked questions
Can a beneficiary be removed from a life insurance policy?
Yes, a beneficiary can be removed by the policyowner or someone the policyowner gave power of attorney.
Can you change life insurance beneficiaries after someone dies?
You can’t change beneficiaries after the insured person dies. If they died while a change was processing, the insurer decides who to pay out to.
Can life insurance beneficiaries be changed at any time?
Yes, the policyholder can change their beneficiaries whenever they want, for any reason.
When do you need permission to change a policy’s beneficiaries?
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.