Retirement plans and life insurance and annuities often constitute a large portion of a client’s estate. At death, these plans are distributed by beneficiary designation, not by the client’s Will or trust.
Many clients are aware that under California law (unless a Will specifically provides otherwise) bequests made to the former spouse in a Will that was made prior to the divorce are revoked at the time the dissolution becomes final. In addition, some beneficiary designations naming the former spouse are automatically revoked upon divorce; but that is not always the case. For example, there is no such automatic revocation of beneficiary designations for retirement plans that are covered by ERISA. For an extended discussion of the effect of California law on the inheritance rights of a former spouse see the following Death and Divorce Blog.