Compare Rates and Save on Life Insurance


Generally, you cannot change a life insurance beneficiary after the policyholder's death. The designation of a beneficiary is legally binding, and the insurance company pays out the death benefit according to the policyholder's latest valid designation. The policy becomes irrevocable once the insured person dies, and no one can make changes.

In some cases, someone may dispute the named beneficiary in a life insurance policy. This could arise due to suspicion of fraud, belief of being unjustly excluded or perceived errors in the policy. If this happens, the contesting party typically must prove their claim in court.

When Can a Life Insurance Beneficiary Be Changed After Death?

A life insurance policy is a binding contract that specifies who will receive the death benefit. However, a few instances exist when another party can contest the life insurance beneficiary upon the policyholder's death.

A contestation is a legal challenge to the named beneficiary on a life insurance policy. It typically comes about when someone believes they were unjustly excluded or when there's suspicion of fraud or manipulation. The contesting party must present their case in court for resolution.

A beneficiary may change after death through contestation due to the following reasons:

Policy terms and conditions: If the policy explicitly allows changing the beneficiary after the policyholder's death, it is possible to proceed with the update. Beneficiary disclaimer: If a beneficiary disclaims the benefits, the insurance company will distribute them to the contingent (secondary) beneficiaries or the policyholder's estate. Invalid beneficiary designation: A court may rule to change the beneficiary if the initial beneficiary designation was not legally valid. Court orders: In divorce or child support obligations, a court might order a change in beneficiary. Suspected fraud or undue influence: A court might allow a change if a policyholder was manipulated or coerced into naming a specific beneficiary. Minor beneficiary: If the beneficiary is a minor, the estate can appoint a legal guardian to manage the proceeds until the child reaches legal age.

Each case is subject to different state laws and the specifics of the insurance policy, so it may be best to consult with a legal professional or insurance expert to understand your specific situation.

Who Can Contest a Life Insurance Beneficiary?

The right to contest is generally limited to those with a legitimate and direct interest in the policy proceeds. Here's a list of people who typically have standing to challenge a life insurance beneficiary:

  • Policyholder's Estate: If the death benefit was supposed to be part of the overall estate, the executor or administrator of the estate may contest the beneficiary.
  • Co-Beneficiaries: If there are multiple beneficiaries and suspicion of fraud or undue influence, a co-beneficiary may contest the designation.
  • Spouses or Ex-Spouses: Depending on the terms of a divorce decree or marital property rights, a current or former spouse might have grounds to contest the beneficiary.
  • Children of the Policyholder: Children may have the right to contest if they were excluded as beneficiaries, especially when a new spouse is the primary beneficiary.
  • Creditors: If the deceased owed significant debts, creditors may contest a beneficiary designation in an attempt to collect on their debt.
  • Other Individuals or Entities with a Valid Claim: This could include business partners, charitable organizations or others named in a will or previous policy which the latest policy omits.

We recommend consulting a lawyer specializing in life insurance claims to determine your standing to challenge a beneficiary.

How To Change a Life Insurance Beneficiary After Death

A contest can trigger a possible change in a life insurance beneficiary. This involves a complex legal process, potentially leading to a court-ordered beneficiary adjustment.


Identifying Grounds for Contest

The person who wishes to contest the beneficiary designation first determines if there are legitimate reasons for the contest, such as suspected fraud, coercion or an invalid beneficiary designation.


Filing a Lawsuit

The contesting party files a lawsuit against the insurance company and possibly against the named beneficiary. The lawsuit should present arguments and evidence supporting their claim.


Court Evaluation

The court evaluates the evidence and arguments. If the contest is found valid, the court can order the insurance company to pay the death benefits to a different beneficiary.


Implementing the Court Order

The insurance company then must follow the court's order to pay the death benefits to the new beneficiary designated by the court.

How Can You Protect Your Life Insurance Beneficiary?

Getting a life insurance policy can be a key part of financial planning, serving as a safety net for your loved ones. Taking some extra steps can help ensure that your chosen beneficiaries receive the death benefits in the event of a tragic loss.

  • Specify Your Beneficiaries: Be sure to clearly state the full names of your beneficiaries in your policy to avoid any ambiguity.
  • Update Your Policy: Keep your policy current. Review and update it regularly, especially after significant life events like the death of a beneficiary, birth of a child, marriage or divorce.
  • Appoint an Irrevocable Beneficiary: An irrevocable beneficiary cannot be changed without their consent, providing an additional layer of security against disputes.
  • Use Per Stirpes or Per Capita Designations: This ensures that if a beneficiary dies before you, their share will go to their descendants (per stirpes) or is distributed equally among remaining beneficiaries (per capita).
  • Communicate Your Decisions: Let your family and loved ones know about your life insurance policy and your choice of beneficiaries. This openness can help avoid disputes later.
  • Hire a Professional: Consult with a financial advisor or an attorney specializing in estate law. They can guide you on how to structure your policy to meet your goals and protect your beneficiaries.
  • Set Up a Trust: If you have concerns about a beneficiary’s ability to manage the proceeds, consider creating a trust. You can designate the trust as the beneficiary of your policy and stipulate how, when and for what purposes the money can be used.

The best defense against beneficiary contests can be a well-structured and regularly updated life insurance policy.

Frequently Asked Questions About Contesting a Life Insurance Beneficiary

Although it's typically not possible to change a life insurance beneficiary after the policyholder's death, there are circumstances when someone else may contest the beneficiary. Below is a list of commonly asked questions to help you better understand a beneficiary contest and how it works.

About Melissa Wylie

Melissa Wylie headshot

Melissa Wylie is a Content and SEO Manager at MoneyGeek. Melissa has worked in the financial content space since 2018 and has spent much of that time focused on all things small business.

Prior to joining MoneyGeek, Melissa held SEO positions at Bankrate and LendingTree. Melissa’s work has also appeared on LendingTree-owned websites ValuePenguin and MagnifyMoney.

Melissa began her career at American City Business Journals in 2015 as a reporter for the company’s women-focused publication Bizwomen. Melissa has a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from the University of North Texas. Melissa relies on her foundation in journalism to craft content that simplifies complex financial topics to help everyone feel confident when making decisions with their money.

Melissa's other work can be read on LendingTree and Bizwomen.