What to do if my ex husband recently passed away and I was unknowingly a beneficiary still for his 401-K account?

UPDATED: Mar 5, 2013

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What to do if my ex husband recently passed away and I was unknowingly a beneficiary still for his 401-K account?

He had set it up via his employer when we were together many years ago. Clearly he hadn’t changed the beneficiary, whether on purpose or on accident I do not know. His family is upset at this fact that I, his ex wife, will be receiving that. He did not leave a will and does not have a Power of Attorney or anything due to the fact that he did not really have a lot of assets. I can foresee the family attempting to fight this in court. Do they have any grounds to fight it if it was setup that way initially and the account sat unchanged for years, even though we were divorced for roughly a year and a half at the time of his death?

Asked on March 5, 2013 under Estate Planning, Wisconsin


Catherine Blackburn / Blackburn Law Firm

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Your divorce judgment may state what happened to your husband's retirement accounts upon divorce - at least it should state this.  In addition, your state's law may have some provision for what happens to beneficiary designations upon divorce.  Call your divorce lawyer and ask. 

Unless the divorce judgment or state law controls, it is likely that the beneficiary designation is valid and you will receive the 401k funds.  Those funds pass outside an estate.  Without a state law saying the designation became invalid when you and your husband divorced, you should receive the funds.

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