Skip to main content

If a surviving spouse dies and an adult child is named beneficiary to mass state retirement plan what will happen

Boston, MA |

my mom died in Massachusetts and had a surviving spouse that died 10 months after her she named me as 100% beneficiary on her mass state retirement plan and now i'd like to know that since her spouse has died will i receive the benefits? or what can happen now?

Attorney Answers 3

  1. Have you tried applying for the benefits you think you might be entitled to? If, as you seem to think, the surviving spouse was the beneficiary, and the amount was paid out to him, the retirement plan will let you know. But the only way to find out is to ask. The records of the retirement plan, not any promise that may have been made to you, will determine who is entitled to any money that might be left in the plan.

  2. Your question previously was asked (perhaps by you) without the additional fact of the surviving spouse passing away. My previous answers cited Federal law (ERISA) whereby the surviving spouse is the beneficiary of an ERISA retirement plan (401k/403b (but not an IRA)) irrespective of who the named beneficiary is of such an ERISA retirement plan. Some attorneys who previously answered disagreed. I am not sure if a Massachusetts state retirement plan is an ERISA retirement plan. As the other attorney who currently answered your question recommended, you should contact the retirement plan administrator to request the retirement funds be made available to you (presumably through a stretch IRA). I (as I and other attorneys previously recommended) recommend you request a copy of the retirement plan document and work with an attorney to try to resolve the matter. I wish you the best with respect to the process.

    Legal Disclaimer: Please note that this answer does not constitute legal advice, and should not be relied on since each situation is fact specific, and it is impossible to evaluate a legal problem without a comprehensive consultation and review of all the facts and documents at issue. This answer does not create an attorney-client relationship. A lawyer experienced in the subject area and licensed to practice in the jurisdiction should be consulted for legal advice. Circular 230 Disclaimer: Any information in this answer may not be used to eliminate or reduce penalties by the IRS or any other governmental agency.

  3. First, I am sorry that you have lost your mother and must deal with this at the holiday season.

    The answer to your question may be very simple or very complex. The answer will depend on what system your mother worked for and what type of plan she had. Under some state plans a surviving spouse has an automatic right to the benefits. Others allow the employee bypass the spouse and name someone else beneficiary. If your mother was married for less than a year at the time of her death this may also be a factor. Some benefits stop at the employee's death. Since you believe you were named as beneficiary, I will presume this is a plan with a continuing benefit.

    If your mother's husband did have rights, these will generally now be the property of his estate. Since he survived your mother, if he did have rights, they will now extend to his heirs or to his estate.

    Suggestion: there is nothing to be suspicious or overly cautious about here. You can't "mess anything up" by asking questions. Call the Human Resources Department of the agency where your mother worked. Identify yourself as daughter, and named beneficiary. Ask for claim forms or how you request your benefits. THIS IS IMPORTANT: if you are the beneficiary, ask about your options. Can you take your benefits in as an inherited IRA? Must you/can you take a lump sum (one big check). The income tax ramifications of the answers will be significant. You may want speak to your accountant or another tax advisor. A lump sum means all the tax is due at once. If you can and do take as an inherited IRA, you will pay tax only on what you withdraw, as you withdraw the funds. A minimum amount MUST be withdrawn from an inherited IRA annually, so again, you may want to seek additional tax advice before making your selection of how you will receive your benefits.

    If it turns out your mother's husband did have rights simply because of their marital status, you will need to ask a lot more questions. Did her husband have children, a will, had he started the claim process, has an estate been opened for him? It will get complicated fast, and you may not have any rights at all.

    1st call the agency where your mom worked. That part should be black and white, they will either have you as the beneficiary, or explain what if any rights her husband (and by extension now his estate may have to her retirement account).

    Good luck, hope this helps.

    Legal Disclaimer: The comment provided above is intended as general information and is NOT legal advice. You should consult an attorney for advice regarding your individual situation. If your question concerns Estate Planning, Business Planning, Asset Protection, Elder Law, Long Term Care Planning, or matters governed by the laws of Massachusetts or Connecticut, you may contact me for a consultation at or 413-527-0517.

Tax law topics

Top tips from attorneys

What others are asking

Can't find what you're looking for?

Post a free question on our public forum.

Ask a Question

- or -

Search for lawyers by reviews and ratings.

Find a Lawyer

Browse all legal topics