Skip to Content
Family with two children in a bright kitchen indicating a time to learn about why getting life insurance is important.
Why get life insurance

Beneficiary Types - Revocable vs. Irrevocable

Since there are a variety of options available, it's critical to understand the types of beneficiaries you can choose as you go through the process.

When it comes to how you want your life insurance benefits to be distributed, it's important to consider all of your available options. Here's what you need to know about irrevocable and revocable life insurance beneficiaries.

What is a life insurance beneficiary?

A life insurance beneficiary is a person or entity you designate to receive your life insurance death benefits after you pass. This can be a spouse, child, loved one, friend or even an organization. 

As you go through the process of purchasing a life insurance policy, take the time to consider exactly who you'd like to designate as your beneficiary. With life insurance, you have a few common options for designating beneficiaries, including a "revocable" or "irrevocable" designation. It's important to understand the key differences between these types of beneficiaries before you make any final decisions.

What is a revocable beneficiary?

With a revocable beneficiary, the person or entity you choose has no legal interest in the death benefit during the insured person's lifetime. The policy owner is in total control. A revocable beneficiary may be changed at any time by the policy owners without the consent of the currently named beneficiaries.

What is an irrevocable beneficiary?

An irrevocable beneficiary is a person or entity who is designated to receive the assets in your life insurance policy and cannot easily be changed or removed unless they consent. As an irrevocable beneficiary, the person or entity chosen has certain rights with regard to the death benefit of your policy.

For example, if you decide to change a named beneficiary, the current irrevocable beneficiary/beneficiaries must sign off on these changes as well. It’s not simply switching out a name.

Naming your beneficiaries

With a life insurance policy, you're allowed to name more than one person or entity as your beneficiary. You can also designate primary, secondary and tertiary beneficiaries. In these cases, if the primary beneficiary listed passes away before you, the benefits would then pass to your secondary beneficiary, and so on.

Advantages of naming an irrevocable beneficiary

Assigning an irrevocable beneficiary ensures the life insurance death benefit goes to the individual/s you intended. Irrevocable beneficiaries can be particularly useful in cases of divorce, second marriages and blended families. If the policyholder wishes to ensure the death benefit goes to their biological children as opposed to a spouse or step-children, for example, naming irrevocable beneficiaries may be a good option.

Frequently asked questions about naming an beneficiary

As you consider your options when naming a beneficiary, you may want to reference these frequently asked questions. An estate planning attorney can also help you designate your beneficiaries and work through some of the details and considerations of your particular situation. 

How can you remove an irrevocable beneficiary from your life insurance policy? 

An irrevocable beneficiary can not be removed from your life insurance without their consent. They must sign off on the change, forfeiting their rights to the proceeds.

Is an irrevocable beneficiary the same as a primary beneficiary? 

The primary beneficiary is the individual who is first in line to receive the death benefit from your life insurance policy. Contingent or secondary beneficiaries are designated to receive the money in case the primary beneficiary is no longer living. In most cases, an irrevocable beneficiary is a primary beneficiary, but note that naming a primary beneficiary is not the same as designating an irrevocable beneficiary.

What are some common pitfalls to avoid when naming beneficiaries? 

When choosing a beneficiary, it's critical to avoid a few key mistakes. For example, make sure you list the full name and Social Security number of your designated beneficiary. Also, if you choose more than one beneficiary, list the percentage split between them. Finally, update your beneficiary, if necessary, when you experience any major life changes.

If you do decide to choose an irrevocable beneficiary, be sure that you understand and review all your options before you sign. It may be a good idea to consult an estate planning attorney to help decide what type of beneficiary is best for your situation. 

Learn more about life insurance, calculate your needs or get a term life quote from Protective.



Arrows linking indicating relationship

Related Articles

Woman wearing earbuds using a smartphone and laptop at kitchen table with baby in a highchair next to her.

How much does life insurance cost?

Learn more
Multigenerational family dancing together at a backyard party

Importance of life insurance planning

Learn more
Young family sitting on their couch with the newest baby in mom’s lap.

Income replacement and life insurance

Learn more
All Learning Center articles are general summaries that can be used when considering your financial future at various life stages. The information presented is for educational purposes and is meant to supplement other information specific to your situation. It is not intended as investment advice and does not necessarily represent the opinion of Protective or its subsidiaries.

Learning Center articles may describe services and financial products not offered by Protective or its subsidiaries. Descriptions of financial products contained in Learning Center articles are not intended to represent those offered by Protective or its subsidiaries.

Neither Protective nor its representatives offer legal or tax advice. We encourage you to consult with your financial adviser and legal or tax adviser regarding your individual situations before making investment, social security, retirement planning, and tax-related decisions. For information about Protective and its products and services, visit

Companies and organizations linked from Learning Center articles have no affiliation with Protective or its subsidiaries.