Same Sex Surviving Spouse Allowed to Pursue Pension Benefits
As most of you know, and, as I discussed in a prior blog, same sex marriage is now recognized for federal benefits. However, what happens when a same sex spouse claims benefits for a spouse who died prior to the decision of the favorable case? A recent case, Schuett v. FedEx et al, the Federal District Court allowed the surviving spouse to go forward with a claim.
Stacey Schuett (“Schuett”) and Lesly Taboda-Hall (“Hall”)were in a committed relationship for 27 years. Hall worked for FedEx for 26 years and was fully vested in the pension plan. After finding out that her cancer was terminal on June 3, 2013, she and Schuett married in California on June 19,2013. On June 20, 2014, Hall passed away.
At the time of their marriage, same sex couples could not receive a marriage license because of Proposition 8 (requiring that a marriage is between individuals of the opposite sex). Shortly thereafter, the United States Supreme Court decided Windsor declaring the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) unconstitutional.
Schuett asked for the qualified pre-retirement survivor annuity for Hall’s pension plan as a surviving spouse. FedEx denied the claim stating that, at the time of Hall’s death, the definition of “spouse” meant a “spouse” of the opposite sex. Schuett then appealed to the federal court arguing that the unconstitutionality of DOMA should apply retroactively and she should be able to pursue her claim. The court agreed and allowed Schuett to pursue her claim.
ADVICE: If you have clients in a same sex marriage or you are in a same sex marriage, be sure to confirm with your company’s retirement plans that the definition of “surviving spouse” includes a same sex spouse for the purpose of receiving retirement benefits. Further, if you were a same sex spouse prior to the favorable Supreme Court case you may be entitled to retroactive benefits as a surviving spouse.
WORD OF THE WEEK: Caveat… is a legal notice provided to the probate court which requires the court to give notice to the “caveator” (the person who files the caveat) when a particular proceeding commences in the court. For example, if a potential beneficiary is concerned that an administration of the decedent’s estate may proceed without such beneficiary’s knowledge, such beneficiary would file a caveat to be sure that the beneficiary receives notice of the proceedings.
GENEROSITY IS A KEY TO HAPPINESS …REACH OUT AND HELP SOMEONE TODAY! 😎