There are several ways that people can legally specify to whom they wish to leave particular assets. While a will is the best known and most commonly used of these options, it is not necessarily the strongest.
One situation where problems can occur is when a person forgets that they made a beneficiary designation for a specific asset.
Here is an example:
Rodney divorces Marilyn and, several years later, marries Jenny
Rodney decides he wants to leave everything to Jenny when he dies, so he updates his will to say so, removing any mention of Marilyn.
Provided the new will is properly written, then Jenny should get “everything.”
The problem comes when some of those assets are already accounted for elsewhere via beneficiary designations.
If Rodney opened a life insurance policy back when he was married to Marilyn, there is a good chance he named her as the beneficiary. Unless he went in and removed her from it, she still stands to get the payout, despite the will saying Jenny gets everything.
This is because what is written in a beneficiary designation supersedes what is written in a will (for that asset only). Hence it is crucial that people check their beneficiary designation when major life changes such as divorce cause them to update their estate plan.
Can you contest a beneficiary designation?
It may be obvious to all of Rodney’s surviving family and friends that he made a mistake. While Marilyn could simply give the money to Jenny, she is under no obligation to. If Jenny wants it and Marilyn intends to keep it, she needs to file a challenge in the courts.
If you believe you have lost out on a beneficiary designation that should have been yours, seek legal help to examine your chances of mounting a successful challenge.