William Kennedy might have made a big mistake with a beneficiary designation. When the longtime DuPont employee divorced his wife, Liv, after 23 years of marriage, their divorce decree ended her claim to his pension benefits. But William never changed his beneficiary designation on his savings and investment (SIP) plan.

When he died, seven years after the divorce, DuPont paid the balance of his account-about $400,000-to his ex-wife. The estate sued, and the case wended its way through the court system, until the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled his error couldn't be corrected. Documents stating a beneficiary control the outcome and can't be overruled by wills or divorces.

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