Can the dead change their beneficiaries? It’s a good question to ask Merrill Lynch, since the wirehouse may ultimately have to defend against allegations that its representatives made beneficiary changes to a client’s accounts after his death, thereby assigning his ex-wife the inheritance he’d left to his sons.

Merrill breached a contract and failed to fulfill its fiduciary duties when it enacted a change-of-beneficiary request from Lowell Clark after he died, according to claims in a lawsuit filed by his sons Brian and Colin Clark.

The Clarks filed their lawsuit on April 12 in federal court in Portland, Oregon. On April 23 they subsequently filed a voluntary motion to dismiss the lawsuit but did so “without prejudice” — leaving open the possibility they could refile the same claims.

Merrill owes them more than $1 million from the retirement accounts of their father, according to the lawsuit filed by the Clark sons.

Merrill had rejected the father’s change of beneficiary form when he sent it in 2012, according to the lawsuit. That rejected form proposed replacing Brian and Colin as his beneficiaries with Janet Fiero, who is the elder Clark’s ex-wife, according to the lawsuit. Clark and Fiero divorced in 2008, according to the lawsuit.

The younger Clarks' lawyer did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Merrill said the firm would decline to comment.


In their lawsuit the sons had alleged Merrill representatives told them of the beneficiary change — which stripped them of their inheritance — only on Jan. 17, the day before the funds were supposed to be transferred to inherited retirement accounts owned by each of them, and a month after their father died in December.

It was only then that Merrill representatives told each of the sons that the wirehouse “had decided to accept the 2012 change of beneficiary form,” according to the lawsuit.