In the wake of major life events—death, divorce, marriage, adoption—updating life insurance beneficiaries might fall to the bottom of the to-do list. However, it’s important to handle these details right away to make sure the right people get the protection you intend they receive without getting caught in legal limbo. Here are 4 cases in which you might need to change your life insurance beneficiary

1. There is a death in the family.

If the beneficiary dies, as is often the case when a parent is listed as a beneficiary, you may want to update your life insurance beneficiary to someone who is currently alive. Also, if you have multiple beneficiaries and one of them dies, you will need to update the percentages in which the payout is divided.

2. You get divorced.

While we all hope that our marriages last “‘til death do us part,” life shows us this is sometimes not the case. In the midst of handling divorce arrangements, be sure to remember that all kinds of documentation might need to be updated, including potentially your life insurance beneficiary. If the divorce is not acrimonious and you have kids, you might want to keep your ex-spouse on your policy. However, if it is contentious, you might want to change your life insurance beneficiary to avoid the payout going to an ex-spouse—and possibly causing legal contention between your ex-spouse and your current closest family members.

3. You get married (or remarried).

While it might seem obvious to add a spouse as a beneficiary to a life insurance policy, it’s not usually a thing-to-do on the wedding planning checklist. When the wedding festivities are done, take a moment to make sure that your beneficiary reflects who you want to receive a payout. Especially if this is a second marriage (as referenced above in the case of divorce), you will want to check to make sure that the right person is listed as the current beneficiary.

4. You have or adopt children.

Protecting our children is one of the biggest reasons we get life insurance, but we sometimes forget to add them to a policy—especially if you already have a policy in place when the child is born or adopted. Be sure to include them in your policy, but remember that you cannot directly name a minor as a beneficiary. You have to set up a trust in their name or appoint another adult custodian who will legally ensure the money goes to the child. Be sure to talk to a life insurance agent or estate attorney when dealing with beneficiary matters involving children.

In general, changing your life insurance beneficiary is a fairly simple process, as long as you have chosen a life insurance policy that doesn’t have an irrevocable beneficiary—a beneficiary that cannot be removed from your policy without him/her signing a waiver. However, it’s important to a) remember to do it and b) make sure that all the paperwork is filled out correctly. And remember: changing your will does not change your life insurance beneficiary. You must contact your life insurance company and change your beneficiary directly with them. Remembering to take these small steps in the face of major life changes ensures that the people who matter to you most will receive the care and protection they need when the time comes.

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