Beneficiary Designation Guidelines

A beneficiary receives plan benefits after you die or if you cannot be located when a benefit is payable. A beneficiary can be a person, an organization (religious, educational, charitable, etc.), a trust or another legal entity. More than one beneficiary may share benefits. The beneficiary rules of Wespath-administered plans are binding and supersede the provisions of your will, your divorce order or your other wishes.

Who Are Your Beneficiaries?

Beneficiaries may be named on Benefits Access or on a Beneficiary Designation form.

Required Spousal Beneficiary

  • Wespath-administered plans generally require your surviving spouse (if you are married at the time of death) be your sole beneficiary—even if you have designated other beneficiaries.
  • Your spouse may consent to other designated beneficiary(ies) on the Beneficiary Designation form and have the signature witnessed by a notary public.
  • Your spouse may consent at the time you designate your beneficiary(ies), shortly after your death or at any time in between. Consent is voluntary, however, and Wespath will not ask your spouse to consent if he or she has not done so.
  • Benefits due to a beneficiary under a plan will be paid to your surviving spouse and not to designated beneficiaries if there is no spousal consent.
  • Your “surviving spouse” is the person to whom you were legally married at the time of your death.

Designated Beneficiaries

  • Beneficiaries may be designated as primary beneficiaries and/or secondary beneficiaries.
  • If one or more of the primary beneficiaries is living at the time of your death (and can be located), he/she/they will receive 100% of eligible benefits (assuming that the surviving spouse, if any, has consented as described above or that you designated your spouse as your sole primary beneficiary).
  • Secondary beneficiary(ies) will receive benefits only if no primary beneficiaries are living at the time of your death (or none can be located).
  • Designating more than one primary or secondary beneficiary means benefits will be divided equally among either class of beneficiaries, unless otherwise specified.
  • Each individual must be named when listing a group of beneficiaries. Wespath cannot identify individuals in groups such as “my heirs” or “all my cousins.”
  • If you designate your spouse as your beneficiary and you later divorce, your ex-spouse will be automatically revoked as a designated beneficiary (without changing any other designated beneficiaries). You must re-designate your ex-spouse following the divorce if he or she is to remain a designated beneficiary.

Default Beneficiaries

If you are married at the time of your death, the default beneficiary is your surviving spouse. If you are single at the time of death, your default beneficiary is your estate.

Benefits will be paid to the default beneficiary if:

  • You fail to designate a beneficiary
  • The beneficiary you designate predeceases you
  • Wespath is unable to locate any designated beneficiaries who may still be alive

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What Benefits Are Payable to Beneficiaries?

Beneficiaries receive only certain benefits from Wespath-administered plans following death. Beneficiaries receive:

  • Any amount remaining in a plan account
  • Any monthly payments due under a term certain annuity or life and term certain annuity, if the participant dies before the end of the term certain
  • Death or survivor benefits under certain welfare plans

Some Wespath-administered plans also pay monthly defined benefit or annuity benefits for life and sometimes for the life of a survivor, such as a surviving spouse. Such a survivor is called a contingent annuitant. Beneficiaries do not receive contingent annuitant benefits, and changing a beneficiary will not change the contingent annuitant.

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Beneficiaries vs. Contingent Annuitants

  • A beneficiary receives a known amount of money—usually the participant’s account balance—from a plan after a participant’s death.
  • A contingent annuitant receives an open-ended series of monthly pension or annuity payments for the remainder of his/her life after a participant’s death.
  • A contingent annuitant is elected (by participant or the plan) during the application process for an annuity or a monthly benefit.
  • An annuity is funded by converting the plan account balance into an annuity. As part of that conversion, the account balance becomes part of a plan funding pool that pays annuity benefits to all annuitants in the pool. When an annuity is established, the former account is no longer in your name and is no longer payable to your beneficiary. Instead, the funding pool pays a specified monthly benefit amount for however long you or your contingent annuitant—lives (the amount is based on actuarially-expected lifetimes).

While you can change your beneficiaries at any time on Benefits Access or by submitting a new Beneficiary Designation form, contingent annuitants are irrevocable. Contingent annuitants cannot be changed once you set up your monthly benefits, even if your contingent annuitant dies before you do or if you marry, divorce or remarry, because the amount of benefits payable per month was computed based on the originally designated contingent annuitant’s expected lifetime.

A beneficiary designation will not apply to the following benefits to which you and your surviving contingent annuitant may be entitled:

  • Monthly benefits from the defined benefit portion of the Clergy Retirement Security Program (CRSP)
  • A lifetime annuity from the Ministerial Pension Plan (MPP)
  • Monthly benefits from the Pre-82 Plan
  • Monthly benefits from the Collins Pension Plan for Missionaries (Collins)
  • Any lifetime annuities being paid from other Wespath-administered retirement plans

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Powers of Attorney

If you sign a “power of attorney” making someone else your agent or attorney-in-fact to act on your behalf, be aware that state law may limit that agent’s authority to designate beneficiaries on your behalf. If you want an agent or attorney to have the authority to designate one or more beneficiaries for plan benefits, it should specifically be stated in the power of attorney document, particularly if you want the agent or attorney-in-fact to be able to name himself or herself as the beneficiary.

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Add to or Update Beneficiaries

  • When you designate a beneficiary, provide as much detail as possible regarding that beneficiary. This makes it easier for Wespath to locate your beneficiary if you die. Names, birth dates, addresses, relationships and Social Security or tax ID numbers should be included.
  • If a trust is being named as a beneficiary, a good format to use is: “John Smith, not personally, but as trustee of the Mary Smith Trust [under an agreement dated Month/Day/Year].”
  • If Wespath cannot locate a beneficiary, that beneficiary will not be able to collect any benefits due.

It is a good idea to check beneficiary designations periodically and to make adjustments as needed, especially if you experience a life event (e.g., marriage, death of a relative, birth of a child, etc.) or you or your beneficiary moves.

To add or change beneficiaries, or to update beneficiaries’ personal information, enter the changes on Benefits Access—login and select “Take Action” from the toolbar, then under UPDATE PERSONAL DATA, choose “Update beneficiary designations”—or via a Beneficiary Designation form. If you are a surviving spouse, non-spouse beneficiary or alternate payee receiving benefits from a Wespath-administered plan, you may view beneficiary designations online, but must make changes using the paper form. After Wespath receives the information, a confirmation of designations will be sent. In order to be valid, beneficiary designations must be received by Wespath during your lifetime.

Please note: If a beneficiary is designated and Wespath accepts the designation, there is no assurance that benefits are due to a beneficiary under a particular Wespath-administered plan or any Wespath-administered plan at all, or that there will be such benefits due at your time of death. If you are entitled to any benefits administered by Unum, such as UMLifeOptions optional life insurance, contact Unum directly at 1-800-985-0242 to designate or change your beneficiary.

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Plan Designation(s)

  • If you check the “All plans” box or do not check any boxes on a Beneficiary Designation form, your beneficiary designation(s) will apply to all current and future Wespath-administered retirement plans in which you are enrolled or have account balances, and to all welfare plans under which you are entitled to a death or survivor benefit (not including UMLifeOptions plans).
  • To choose different beneficiaries for different plans, you must complete your beneficiary designations on Benefits Access or submit a Beneficiary Designation form for each plan.

Wespath-administered plans include:

Retirement Plans

Welfare Plans

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Beneficiary Designation Forms

If you are not an active participant in a Wespath-administered retirement plan, you must designate beneficiaries using a paper form (below). Active participants also may choose to designate a beneficiary or update beneficiary designation information via the paper form.

  • Beneficiary Designation form
  • Call Unum at 1-800-985-0242 to obtain a beneficiary form for UMLifeOptions plans. Submit the completed form to Unum.

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For additional information about beneficiaries, contingent annuitants or your benefits under Wespath plans, call Wespath at 1-800-851-2201. Participants should consult an attorney about the specific legal and tax implications regarding beneficiary designations.

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Updating Beneficiaries

You can update your beneficiary designation information online or by sending in a completed form.

• Log in to and click Take Action > Update Personal Data > Update Beneficiary Designations, or

• Complete and return a Beneficiary Designation form.


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