Private retirement plans typically have provisions relating to benefits payable to a spouse, former spouse, or a named beneficiary at death or divorce. These provisions may differ depending on the type of plan. It is important to notify the administrator of your plan of any change in your family status since this can determine the form of benefit you or your spouse or former spouse will receive.
Benefits for married employees in traditional pension plans must include survivor benefits for spouses, unless both the employee and spouse agree to give up the right to survivor benefits. These protections apply whether the employee dies before or after retirement.
In 401(k)-type plans, a spouse will receive the money in the employee’s account if the employee dies while working in a job covered by the plan, unless the spouse gives up this protection. There are no survivor protections for spouses once an employee leaves work covered by a plan.
Unmarried employees usually must name a beneficiary to receive the money in a 401(k) account in case the employee dies before leaving employment. If no beneficiary is named, the plan will pay benefits in accordance with plan rules.