(b)lines Ask the Experts – Missing Spouses as Beneficiaries

November 18, 2014 (PLANSPONSOR (b)lines) – “One of our new employees told us she does not wish to name her spouse as beneficiary of her retirement plan benefit.

“When we informed here of the spousal consent requirements for the qualified preretirement survivor annuity, she explained that she would be happy to obtain the consent of her spouse, but that she has not seen him in more than 10  years and knows nothing of his whereabouts, even though they are technically married. Is there any recourse for her, or is she ‘stuck’ with naming the spouse as beneficiary?”  

Michael A. Webb, vice president, Cammack Retirement Group, answers:

It is possible that there would be recourse for this participant, but additional efforts will be required on her part. It is not sufficient for the participant to simply assert that she cannot locate the spouse. The participant is going to need to document that she has utilized various locator services in an effort to track the spouse down, has filed a missing persons report, is in possession of newspaper articles documenting the spouse’s disappearance, etc. etc.

Alternatively, the participant could obtain some legal or administrative ruling that the spouse cannot be located. At any rate, it must be established to the plan administrator’s satisfaction that the spouse cannot be located—basically that there is virtually zero chance that the spouse will surface at some point and claim his right to the participant’s benefit.

Of course, the spouse may also obtain a legal separation, a court order of abandonment (in some states) or an actual divorce. Otherwise, the participant is indeed “stuck” with naming the legal spouse as beneficiary as you state.

Thank you for your question!


NOTE: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice.