Many people have retirement savings accounts that they contribute money to throughout their careers. While retirement plans can only be in one person’s name, income placed in a retirement account during a marriage is generally considered marital property and is subject to equitable distribution absent an agreement to the contrary. A party that waives the right to their former spouse’s retirement benefits via a marital settlement agreement is not then entitled to such benefits merely because of an oversight in the plan document, as discussed in a recent Florida opinion. If you or your spouse intend to seek a divorce, it is prudent to retain a seasoned Florida divorce lawyer to help you protect your assets.
Reportedly, the parties married in 1988. Throughout the marriage, the husband contributed to a 401k that was governed by ERISA. He designated the wife as his primary beneficiary under the plan and his children as secondary beneficiaries. They divorced in 2017 and entered into a marital settlement agreement (MSA) that stated, in part, that each party would receive the benefits from any retirement plan in their name and waived the right to any interest or claims in the other party’s benefits.
It is alleged that the MSA was ratified via the final dissolution of marriage. The husband died two years after the divorce, and his daughter from a prior marriage was named as the personal representative of his estate. Prior to his death, however, he neglected to change the primary beneficiary on his 401k plan. The wife and the daughter both made claims for the plan proceeds, but the plan administrator distributed them to the wife. The daughter filed a motion to enforce the MSA. In response, the wife argued that she did not waive her right to death benefits under the MSA. Following a hearing, a magistrate found in favor of the wife. The estate filed an exception. The trial court sustained the exceptions and ordered the wife to turn over the 401k proceeds. The wife appealed. Continue reading ›