How can I leave my pension to the person I choose?

father and son

It’s easy to think that everything you own will be distributed according to your will when you die. Your pension, though, is a different matter. Pensions are not considered part of your estate, and generally not subject to inheritance tax. Most importantly, you will need to specify who will benefit, via a particular form, known as a nomination form or Expression of Wish form.

What is a nomination form?

Most pensions, aside from the state pension, will require you to complete a nomination form. This will allow you to give details of the loved ones that you would like to benefit from your pension when you die, who are known as your beneficiaries. While nomination forms usually only apply to lump sum benefits from a pension on death, and not to the transfer of a drawdown pension (i.e pension income),  providers do vary. You will need to ask your provider(s) what they require.

Who can I nominate?

You can nominate anyone you like, including family, friends, charities, clubs or associations.

If I am married, will my spouse automatically get my pension?

Your pension provider may automatically nominate your spouse or civil partner to receive the lump sum in the absence of a nomination form, but you should check the details of your policy and make sure it complies with your wishes.

How many people can I nominate?

Each individual pension provider should specify their requirements on the form. Some providers state that you can nominate up to 25 beneficiaries.

What happens if I nominate my personal representatives?

If you nominate the ‘personal representatives’ or ‘executors’ of your will, or more simply your ‘estate,’ there is a good chance that your pension lump sum will form part of your estate and will become subject to inheritance tax.

Is it legally binding?

Most pension providers will state that your nominations will not be legally binding, and the distributions will be made at their discretion. In the majority of cases, they will comply with your instructions if they are clear and up to date. They may be more inclined to disregard your wishes if the information appears to be out of date or inappropriate, for example if someone has died or got divorced.

What happens if I don’t fill in the form?

Distributions are usually made at the provider’s discretion if you don’t submit a nomination form. Some pension providers have a policy that they will automatically pass the lump sum to your spouse or civil partner, but this is not guaranteed, and you should check your policy.

What information should I provide?

Each pension plan is different, but generally you will be asked to provide your pension account number or reference number, the full name of each beneficiary, their date of birth and address and their relationship to you. You will then be asked what percentage share of the lump sum you would like to leave them. You must ensure that the shares add up to 100%, otherwise your provider may be obliged to use their discretion. You can of course leave 100% to one person or organisation.

How can I update it?

The nomination form can be updated as frequently as necessary, and often online, so make sure you keep your beneficiary’s personal details current and correct. The forms can usually be revoked or amended at any time.


An article of this kind can never provide a complete guide to the law in these areas, which may be subject to change from time to time. The opinions and suggestions made within this article should not be interpreted as specific advice in relation to any particular individual or individuals. Neither STEP, the article author or their firm accept responsibility for any loss occasioned by someone acting or refraining to act on the basis of the opinions and suggestions contained in this article. More