Sometimes conflicting beneficiary designations for 401(k) plan assets can be tough to sort out when a plan participant dies. It took a verdict from the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit to resolve one such case, and the ruling may provide useful guidance for benefits administrators going forward.

The case, Becker v. Mays-Williams (13-35069-cv, 2015 WL 348872), centered around whether a beneficiary’s call to a benefits processing center could supersede his prior written instructions on a beneficiary designation form. The short answer is “yes,” but the particular facts in the case hold the key.

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