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Frequently Asked Questions

Designating Your Beneficiaries

Why is designating a beneficiary (or beneficiaries) important?

Naming someone as the beneficiary of your eligible WRS benefits is one of your prime opportunities to pass a financial interest to your loved ones after you’re gone. The beneficiary designation in your Wisconsin Retirement System file at the time of your death is binding in the payment of your WRS benefits. If you haven’t designated a beneficiary, your account will be paid out according to Wisconsin law.

I have a will and some estate planning documents. Do these supersede a beneficiary designation, or will ETF recognize my will?

No, WRS benefits are governed by of the Wisconsin statutes. ETF cannot recognize anything other than a beneficiary designation.

How do I designate my beneficiaries?

The only way to name beneficiaries for your WRS account or your Wisconsin Public Employers Life Insurance is by completing ETF’s beneficiary designation forms. There are two beneficiary designation forms:

Beneficiary forms must be filled out as clearly and completely as possible in order to carry out your wishes after your death. 

If you have questions about which beneficiary designation form best suits your needs, please contact ETF

May I divide my benefit among more than one beneficiary?

Yes. If, for instance, you want to name all of your children as beneficiaries on a particular account, then ETF will distribute your eligible benefit equally among them -- unless you specify different percentages.

May I specify that each beneficiary receives a certain amount of money?

No, you can only specify that each beneficiary receives a percentage of your account. If you specify percentages to be paid to beneficiaries at one level, the percentages at that level must equal 100%. 

May I designate a minor as a beneficiary?

Yes, you may list a minor child as a beneficiary. However, if at your death, the child is still a minor ETF will not pay the child directly.  ETF will pay the child’s court-appointed guardian, or the person ETF calls the child’s “natural guardian.” This is the person providing for or caring for the child, such as the child’s parent. 

May I name a trust as my beneficiary?

Yes. Your trust is a legal entity which can be named as your beneficiary to receive any eligible WRS payments that a living beneficiary would otherwise receive.

If you name a trust as a beneficiary, you must provide ETF with enough information that ETF can identify the trust at the time of payment to the trust. You must provide the following information on the beneficiary designation:

  • The full name of the trust as it shows on the trust document
  • The date the trust was created
  • The name of the trustee, followed by the word “trustee”
  • The trustee’s address
  • If you are the trustee of your own trust, you must provide the name and address of a successor trustee for us to contact after your death. 

May I name a charity, a business, or a religious organization as a beneficiary?

Yes, these are all legal entities which you may name as beneficiaries. Please list the full legal name, tax identification number and current address so that ETF can best carry out your wishes. 

May I name different beneficiaries for my WRS account and my Wisconsin Public Employers Life Insurance?

Yes, you can name different beneficiaries for these two accounts. You must complete a separate beneficiary designation for each account. Each form has a section in which you can specify these choices. 

If I get married or divorced, does my beneficiary automatically change?

No, life changes such as marriage or divorce do not automatically change your beneficiaries. The only way to change your beneficiaries is to file a new form with ETF. 

  • If you have named your spouse as your beneficiary, and then you get divorced, that person remains your beneficiary until you file a new form with ETF. 
  • If you get married, your new spouse does not become your beneficiary until you file a new form with ETF. 

How often can I change my beneficiaries?

You can change your beneficiaries by filing a new beneficiary form as often as you wish.

Should I hire an attorney or estate planner to complete my beneficiary designation form?

While ETF cannot offer advice on this question, it has been our experience that following the instructions on the form and calling us with questions has, in most cases, ended with a beneficiary designation form being accepted.

How can I learn who my current beneficiaries are?

You can call ETF to ask who your current beneficiaries are. Be sure to have your Member ID or Social Security Number available when you call. Call 1-877-533-5020 (toll-free) or 266-3285 (local Madison). 

Note: Your annual WRS Statement of Benefits also contains your beneficiary designation information. 

After I send a beneficiary designation form to ETF, how do I know I completed it correctly?

Staff review your form to determine whether it complies with ETF rules and Wisconsin laws. We will follow up with a letter notifying you whether your designation has been accepted. If your designation has not been accepted, the letter will indicate the reason(s) for the rejection; you can then file a new form with ETF. 

What happens if I don’t file a beneficiary designation form with ETF?

If you do not file a beneficiary designation with ETF, your benefits will be paid out in the order called “standard sequence” and it is part of Wisconsin law. Payment is made to the person or persons in the lowest numbered group that contains one or more living persons.   

Group 1. Surviving spouse or domestic partner.
Group 2. Children (natural or legally adopted). If one of your chil­dren dies before you, that child’s share is divided be­tween your deceased child’s children. The beneficiaries in Group 2 will include all of your marital and non-marital children (or grandchildren, when applicable) as long as any relevant paternity is established, regardless of whether your child’s date of birth is before or after your date of death.
Group 3. Grandchildren. If one of your grandchildren dies before you, that grandchild’s share is divided between your deceased grandchild’s children.
Group 4. Parent(s)
Group 5. Brother(s) and Sister(s). If one of your siblings dies before you, that sibling’s share is divided between your deceased sibling’s children.
Group 6. If there are no survivors in Groups 1 though 5, any death benefits will be paid to your estate.


Things to keep in mind:

Review your beneficiaries and your needs regularly.  Birth, death, marriage, and divorce are all common life situations that can change how you want your beneficiary designation structured. 

Because the beneficiary designation is a legal document, it is essential that you complete it accurately and it is legible. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when entering your information:

  • Please read the directions included with the form and follow the template provided for the scenario that best fits your circumstances.
  • ETF is the best place to get your questions about beneficiaries answered.
  • Submit the original form to ETF. Once the form is approved by ETF, we will send you a confirmation letter.
  • Sign and date the form.
  • Name only living persons as beneficiaries, unless you are naming a trust, estate or organization.
  • Do not name the same person or organization as both primary and contingent beneficiary.
  • Do not use the word “or” when designating multiple beneficiaries.
  • Do not impose any conditions on payment.
  • Do not write in the margins of the form.
  • Do not make any changes to the form.
  • Do not name yourself as your beneficiary.


Wisconsin Deferred Compensation Program Participants: Please note that the WDC’s beneficiary designations are different than your WRS beneficiary designations; updating one does not automatically update the other. You should be sure both are current. If the WDC does not have a beneficiary designation on file for you, your account benefits will be paid according to the Wisconsin statutory standard sequence in effect on the date of death. Contact the WDC for more information or click here to download a copy of the WDC beneficiary designation. If you have a domestic partner and would like this individual to receive your WDC account after your death, you must file a beneficiary designation listing your domestic partner with the WDC. After the law changes on January 1, 2018, without a WDC beneficiary designation on file naming your domestic partner, your domestic partners will not receive your WDC account after your death.

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