It is important to use counsel familiar with ERISA rules and interpretations even when executing simple waiver documents . A recent Fourth Circuit decision illustrates that a waiver is not always a waiver , even in what appears to be a simple divorce settlement .
Boyd was the contingent beneficiary of a life insurance policy , a document covered by ERISA . The primary beneficiary was the ex-spouse of the deceased , who obtained that designation during the marriage . In the divorce settlement , the primary waived any right to the insurance proceeds . However , the deceased never changed beneficiaries with the insurer . When the policyholder died , the insurer paid the ex-spouse , ignoring the waiver document , following the language in a Supreme Court decision , Kennedy v. Plan Administrator for DuPont Savings , 129 S.CT 865 (2009) .
The court in Boyd agreed , even though the policy in Boyd did not have a specific provision stating how benefits could be waived . The insurer was correct to pay the ex-spouse under the terms of the plan . Hence , any action by Boyd to recover the plan benefits had to be brought against the ex-spouse under an unjust enrichment theory of recovery .
The bottom line is that any controversy involving plan documents governed by ERISA requires experienced ERISA counsel . Jim Zalewski has over 30 years experience in dealing with ERISA matters , and has served as a co- chairman of an ERISA Litigation sub-committee for the ABA . Whether you are dealing with a similar matter , or have questions about your pension or health care plans , please call us to make sure your rights are properly represented .