What Happens if a Beneficiary Is in a Maiden Name?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

What Happens if a Beneficiary Is in a Maiden Name?

By Jeffry Olson, J.D.

Individuals often draft their estate plans many years in advance. Wills, trusts, life insurance, retirement accounts, and other legal documents bear the names of beneficiaries, and it's not unusual for these names to change between the drafting of a document and its enforcement. When a grantor dies, their legal documents might name individuals who have since married, divorced, or even been adopted, therefore having their maiden name changed.

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Wills and Trusts

Wills and trusts allow a grantor to name beneficiaries to receive assets after the grantor dies. The law recognizes that life circumstances, including marriage and divorce, result in the changing of maiden names, and the law aims to enforce the wishes of the deceased. If the identity of the intended beneficiary is clear, the law enforces the will or trust regardless of the party's current name.

This also applies if the document misspells the beneficiary's name or fails to use the party's full legal name. It is always best to name all beneficiaries accurately and identify them with further information, which might include their home address and date of birth. Backing up the names with more identifying details allows a court and other parties to find and notify the intended beneficiary as easily as possible.

Other Financial and Legal Documents

Similar to wills and trusts, other financial and legal documents naming beneficiaries seek to transfer the assets to the intended beneficiary upon the death of the original owner of the asset. Often, the document identifies how an individual with a changed named must prove their identity. Beneficiaries must provide the financial institution any documents required to receive the assets as intended.

Remember, this process may be new to you, but financial institutions make these types of transfers every day. The institution has individuals whose job it is to make these transfers, not to question or fight an intended beneficiary.

Methods of Proof

When a beneficiary's maiden name has changed, a marriage certificate or copy of a divorce decree is sufficient to show the name change and prove the party is actually the intended beneficiary. If those documents are not available for some reason, affidavits from disinterested third parties can prove the name change and that the individual is, in fact, the person named as the beneficiary.

In a perfect world, every grantor updates their documents with correct names and addresses. Clarifying the name of the desired beneficiary avoids any possible confusion in the future. In fact, parties should periodically review any estate plan. Grantors should not treat estate plans as something forgotten once executed. However, the law recognizes that updating estate plans and other financial and legal documents is not something on the top of everyone's to-do list.

The law prefers to connect these dots easily and see that the intended beneficiary receives the assets left to them upon the death of the original owner. A beneficiary whose maiden name has changed can prove their identity by producing a marriage certificate, divorce decree, or affidavit. Once the court sees appropriate documentation, it can distribute the funds, property, or other assets to the desired beneficiary.

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.