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When is ERISA preemption permitted? Beneficiary designation forms can cause headaches for benefits administrators

  • Frank Palmieri
  • June 01 2011, 1:00am EDT
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Benefit administrators, 401(k) vendors, recordkeepers and benefits professionals regularly recommend that participants in qualified retirement plans periodically review and update their beneficiary designation forms. Qualified retirement plans provide that if a married participant dies without a beneficiary designated, the death benefit will be paid to the participant's spouse, unless the spouse consents in writing to appointing an alternate payee. For a single participant, benefits are paid to their estate if no beneficiary is designated. What could be simpler that merely indicating to whom or to what entity a participant wishes their assets to be transferred in the event of death? Unfortunately, numerous issues arise in connection with the simple task of designating a beneficiary.


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