Unfortunately, retirement planning just got a little bit more complicated for many people. A recent ruling by a U.S. District Court in Louisiana muddied the waters for individuals who want to change their beneficiary or beneficiaries, ruling that, if you are married, it is not enough to name your beneficiary; you must also secure a signed spousal waiver. In the case in question, a recently remarried Louisiana man who had clearly designated his three children as his beneficiaries on his 401(k) passed away only a few weeks after getting hitched. The court decided that under the terms of the plan, a spouse’s financial rights regarding those assets–and a spouse’s status as the default plan beneficiary–are fully vested the moment the marriage becomes official. As a result, the funds from his 401(k) passed to his new wife. Perhaps most important, the court ruling states that, under the terms of the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA) of 1974, a plan participant must not only formally designate an intended beneficiary, but must also obtain a spousal consent waiver (after getting married) if that beneficiary is someone other than the spouse. The good news is, this two-part process only applies to company-sponsored plans and other accounts governed by ERISA; IRAs are exempt. The bad news is: if you decide you want to roll that 401(k) money over to an IRA, your spouse still has to sign a waiver! Protect yourself and your interests by being sure to review the beneficiary designation process carefully with your financial advisor, retirement planning expert or wealth management professional.