Monday, February 4, 2008
Albert Feuer has posted on SSRN his forthcoming piece in the John Marshall Law Review: Who is Entitled to Survivor Benefits from ERISA Plans?
Here's the abstract:
This Article argues that a beneficiary designation made by a participant pursuant to the terms of an ERISA plan determines who is entitled to survivor benefits from that plan. Such designation may not be superseded by
(A) an agreement made in a marital dissolution or separation whereby a participant promises to make or retain a different designation (such agreements are not qualified domestic relations orders, "QDROs," because QDROs are limited to orders directed not at participants but at ERISA plans);
(B) an agreement made in a marital dissolution or separation whereby a participant's former or separated spouse "relinquishes" any interest in the participant's ERISA plan benefits; or
(C) a state law or federal common-law principle whereby killers of a participant are deprived of the entitlement to the participant's survivor benefits from an ERISA plan.
ERISA pension plans must incorporate the only two ERISA required beneficiary designations, QDROs and spousal survivor benefit designations. Neither statutory designation applies to an ERISA plan that is not a pension plan, such as a life insurance or disability plan. Thus, neither statutory designation may supersede a beneficiary designation made pursuant to the explicit terms of an ERISA life insurance or disability plan.
ERISA voids both (A) a direct benefit claim against an ERISA plan that is not based on a designation that was made pursuant to the terms of the plan, and (B) an indirect benefit claim against the recipient of plan benefits that is not based on a designation that was made pursuant to the terms of the plan.
This is welcome clarification on a difficult area of ERISA from one of the best practitioner-scholars in the employee benefit fields.