After a divorce is complete, changing beneficiaries on accounts is important. Failure to do so can have some unexpected results.

Beneficiary

If you have retirement benefits, insurance benefits, bank accounts, investment accounts, etc., with named beneficiaries, you will wand to review them to make sure they are what you want after divorce. Chances are you named your spouse as beneficiary, and after a divorce would no longer want that. You need to change them.

Under Washington law, after a divorce, a former spouse designation on a will or account will not longer be recognized. It would automatically revert to your secondary beneficiary or to your estate. If you wanted your former spouse to be the beneficiary, you would need to rename him/her after the divorce to be enforceable.

Federal law on certain ERISA benefits however, trump Washington law. That means that for retirement (401(k) and pension) and insurance type benefits, if the named beneficiary is your former spouse, and you do not change it after divorce, he or she will receive the benefits, even though that was not your intent.

The moral of the story is, after a divorce, make sure you update all of your beneficiaries on all accounts and investments.