22 Jun Do I have a right to my ex-husband’s pension?
Q. When my husband and I divorced, we each took our own personal pensions. He remarried a week before he died. He never changed the beneficiary on the pension and it still has my name. I thought I lost it in the divorce. What’s right?
A. The answer will depend a lot on the specifics.
You didn’t see if your divorce agreement detailed what would happen to the pension.
You said that you both “took” your “personal pensions,” so we’re going to assume you each retained your own personal pension without distribution to the other party subsequent to the divorce.
Generally, the beneficiary named as the benefactor of an asset will be entitled to the asset upon the owner’s passing, but retirement assets, and in particular, pensions, can be more complicated, said Jeralyn Lawrence, a family law attorney with Lawrence Law in Watchung.
She said depending on the type of retirement asset, a beneficiary designation, or change in the designation, might be limited in time and opportunity.
“For example, some spousal designations may terminate upon divorce, regardless of whether the participant neglected to ever change the beneficiary designation from a former spouse to a current spouse,” she said. “Some designations made at the time of retirement may be permanent upon retirement and at the time the pension is going into pay status, such that even if a participant divorces subsequent to retirement and his or her pension goes into pay status, the participant may be forever precluded from changing the beneficiary designation.”
Each pension is going to be different and have a unique set of guidelines under which it operates.
“To better understand the manner in which your ex-husband’s pension plan administrator will honor, designate or modify beneficiaries, it is imperative that you obtain and review a copy of the Summary Plan Description associated with your late ex-husband’s pension plan, which will contain helpful information and will guide you as to whether you are the surviving beneficiary to this pension,” she said.
In the event you are uncertain as to the terms of your divorce decree on the division of retirement assets, you should speak with an experienced family lawyer who can help.
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This story was originally published on June 22, 2022.
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