Decided: March 4, 2013
In this case, the Fourth Circuit held that the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) does not preempt the enforceability of a state law waiver that was entered into by a beneficiary of certain retirement and life insurance plans. The ex-husband of the decedent claimed that he was the rightful owner of the proceeds from the decedent’s ERISA plans because, although the decedent and he had obtained a divorce decree and marital settlement agreement, the decedent had failed to remove him as the named beneficiary of the plans. Despite this oversight on the decedent’s behalf, the terms of the marital settlement agreement provided that the ex-husband waived any interest in the wife’s retirement plan and that he released and relinquished any future rights as a beneficiary under the decedent’s life insurance policy. The court stated that the ERISA provision which commands the plan administrator to “distribute benefits to the beneficiary named in the plan” did not preempt the enforcement of the ex-husband’s wavier to the decedent’s property. Thus, the court concluded that the ERISA plan administrator was to pay out the proceeds to the ex-husband as beneficiary, but that in accordance with a prior state court order, the ex-husband was to waive his rights and distribute the money back to the decedent’s estate.
-John C. Bruton, III