It’s tough enough to contemplate the traditional individual, family and financial changes of the process of divorce.  It’s even tougher to factor in the possibility of one’s own mortality during divorce proceedings, or thereafter.  But the consequences of failing to stay on top of these matters can be devastating to the family. Let’s take a look a Missouri laws in this regard, so you can consider the options with an attorney.

So let’s say the divorce is final.  Now what?  Well, under Missouri laws, any prior bequest or devise left to the former spouse via will, trust or beneficiary designation is automatically revoked, i.e. treated as though the spouse predeceased the deceased spouse at the time of the divorce.  However, under federal laws relating to retirement plans and pensions, the automatic revocation of the beneficiary designation under state law does NOT apply.  In fact, there is a US Supreme Court case which left intact the retirement plan beneficiary designation of the former spouse, much to the chagrin of the deceased spouse’s family.

In Missouri, a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) needs to be drafted as a post-dissolution document that is filed with the Court.  This document divides a retirement plan or pension plant by recognizing joint marital ownership interests in the plan, specifically the former spouse’s share of the asset.  QDROs apply only to employee benefit or pension plans subject to the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), the American federal law governing private sector pensions. A domestic relations order is qualified by a plan administrator upon the plan administrator’s determination that the order meets the plan’s rules for separation.

To be safe, be sure to update or create a will, trust and other estate or beneficiary designations naming the desired beneficiaries, both during and then after the divorce.  And if you’re feeling generous, you can always leave your ex something more, as some folks do.  At least it will be a conscious decision, not one left to chance or the interplay of various federal and state laws.  And you will avoid litigation among the surviving family members, or at least hard feelings.

None of this is meant as specific legal advice. You should consult an attorney to determine your options and the best course of action.  But please don’t wait until there is trouble.


Mary Neff

About Mary Neff, JD

Mary is licensed as an Approved Mediator by the Supreme Court of Missouri as well as the Supreme Court of Illinois. She is a graduate of St. Louis University School of Law where she received her Juris Doctorate. She also brings a Master of Science Degree in Family Sciences from Illinois State University (ISU) as well as a Bachelor of Science in Speech Pathology from ISU.