Many of us work hard to build up our pensions to fund the retirement we want, but do you know what will happen to your pension if you pass away before you retire?

A pension expression of wishes form allows you to nominate who you want to inherit your pension if you die, which is crucial if you want peace of mind your savings will go to who you want them to. Here’s everything you need to know about how pension expression of wishes forms work.

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What is a pension expression of wishes?

A pension expression of wishes is a statement you can make that outlines what you want to happen to your retirement savings if you pass away before you retire.

Unlike other assets, such as savings accounts or property, your pension falls outside your estate. This means that you can’t simply outline who you want to leave your pension savings to in your will. As many people’s pensions are the biggest pot of savings they’ll have in their lifetime, it’s important to fill out an expression of wishes form so that your money will go to the people or person you want it to when you die. It’s also really important to make sure this form is kept up to date if your circumstances change.

If you don’t complete this form, then it will be up to the trustees of your pension to decide who to pay your pension to, normally your dependents such as your spouse or civil partner, or your children. Find out more in our guide What happens to my pension when I die?

Different pension providers will use slightly different terminology, for example, some may ask you to nominate a beneficiary rather than to complete an expression of wishes form, although this is essentially the same thing.

If you’re considering getting professional financial advice, Unbiased is offering Rest Less members a free pension review. It’s a chance to have a qualified independent financial advisor (IFA) take a look at your pension arrangements and give an unbiased assessment of your retirement savings.

The consultation is free and without obligation, but if the IFA feels you’d benefit from paid financial advice, they’ll go over how that works and the charges involved.

How do you fill out a pension expression of wishes form?

Each pension provider will have a slightly different form but they are normally a few simple boxes that you need to fill out and are straightforward to complete.

Lots of pension platforms allow you to complete the form online and they’ll normally ask you to verify your identity, often through your name, National Insurance number and account number if you have it.

Once you’ve verified your identity, you can provide the details of your beneficiaries. You’ll usually need to provide their name, address and their relationship to you.

Some pension providers might also have the option to provide additional wording to add further clarification. For example, you might want to provide instructions of what to do if a beneficiary can’t be reached, or if someone you’ve named has passed away. If you are able to provide your own wording, keep things clear and concise so there’s no room for misinterpretation.

When you nominate a beneficiary, you can also outline what percentage of your pension savings you would like them to receive. You can name as many beneficiaries as you like, or you can nominate charities if you prefer. 

Bear in mind that the types of pensions you have will make a difference to who you can name in your expression of wishes. For workplace and private pensions, you can usually nominate whoever you like to receive the money, but for final salary pensions, there are often rules about who can and who cannot receive your pension savings.

If you’re unsure about anything at all about your expression of wishes, contact your pension provider and they’ll be able to help you.

What happens if you don’t complete a pension expression of wishes form?

If you don’t complete a pension expression of wishes for your pension then your pension provider will decide who will inherit your pension savings.

If you don’t make an expression of wishes, but your family makes a claim on your pension savings, then your pension provider will consider this and might pay this directly to your family. The benefit of this is that Inheritance Tax won’t be payable on this sum.

If no one makes a claim on your pension savings and you didn’t name any beneficiaries or leave an expression of wishes, then often they will be paid into your estate and Inheritance Tax may be payable if the value of your estate is above the current £325,000 Inheritance Tax threshold. Read more about Inheritance Tax in our guide What is Inheritance Tax?

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Use the Rest Less pension calculator to find out how much you might need to save for retirement, how much your pension pot could potentially be worth and how long it could last.

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Can you change your pension expression of wishes if your circumstances change?

It’s really easy to change your pension expression of wishes so if something in your life changes, whether that’s getting married, divorced or if someone close to you has passed away.

You can make as many changes as you like, as often as you like, and the process will normally be the same as making your expression of wishes for the first time.

It might not be fun to think about what’s going to happen when you die, but no one knows what the future holds and if your expression of wishes isn’t up to date, it can cause delays in your pension provider paying out to your family, not to mention potentially causing tension if people start weighing in on who should receive what. 

One thing that might be useful is to make a habit out of checking your expression of interest on a regular basis, whether that’s every six months or annually.

Do pension providers always follow your wishes?

Expressions of wishes aren’t legally binding, so while your pension provider will consider your wishes, they get the final say in who inherits your pension savings and there might be a scenario where they won’t follow your request.

Your pension provider has a responsibility to make sure the most appropriate person receives the payout from your pension savings, so if that isn’t who’s named in your expression of wishes then they might pay it to someone else.

For example, if you have any dependents that aren’t named as key beneficiaries, whether that’s a partner or children then your pension might decide that they are the most appropriate recipients over and above other people or organisations you’ve nominated.

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