Does a 401K go to the widow or the designated beneficiaries?

UPDATED: Sep 30, 2022

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Does a 401K go to the widow or the designated beneficiaries?

A friend needs advice. Her brother had 401k that he contributed since he was single and put 2 of the sisters as beneficiaries 50/50. He died but was married and had 1 daughter. He passed away last year. The wife treated him so badly that he did not want to change the beneficiary names. His wish was to leave it like that for his sisters. He did not want to give to his wife until last breath. The 2 sisters paid for all the funeral expenses. Now the wife brings the 2 sisters to court. She wants the money. Will she win and take all the money even though her name is not on the beneficiary list?

Asked on March 16, 2016 under Estate Planning, Massachusetts


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 6 years ago | Contributor

Some of a deceased's assets are not part of their estate; proceeds from a of a 401k are among such assets. This means that they pass directly to the named beneficiaries listed. Therefore an heir cannot make a claim to these proceeds.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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