U.S. Supreme Court Decides Pension Beneficiary Following Divorce And Death

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Kennedy v. DuPont. The Court held the plan administrator of an ERISA benefits plan should pay plan benefits to wife #1, who was the designated plan beneficiary on a designation executed during the marriage and not to wife #2, who was married to the deceased participant spouse at the time of his death. The divorce decree in question awarded 100% of the deceased participant’s benefits to participant, not wife #1. However, participant failed to change his beneficiary designation after the divorce.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in Kennedy v. DuPont. The Court held the plan administrator of an ERISA benefits plan should pay plan benefits to wife #1, who was the designated plan beneficiary on a designation executed during the marriage and not to wife #2, who was married to the deceased participant spouse at the time of his death. The divorce decree in question awarded 100% of the deceased participant’s benefits to participant, not wife #1. However, participant failed to change his beneficiary designation after the divorce.

SCOTUS BLOG points out, The Court, however, did leave open for the future a related question: if an ex-spouse is handed the benefits by a plan manager, might they still have to be surrendered, once the payout was completed? A footnote indicated that the Court on Monday was only resolving how federal benefit law applied to the initial distribution of plan payments, not their subsequent fate.

Here is the syllabus.

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