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

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By Frank Palmieri
June 1, 2011

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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