Robbins v. State Board of Retirement (2023)
Attorney Sally Clymer of the Law Offices of Juliane Soprano was successful in obtaining survivor benefits for the individual named on the Option B beneficiary form (Robbins). The issue was that there was no percentage allocated to Robbins, only his name was listed. The deceased Retiree’s family argued that the couple had split up and the Retiree would no longer want Robbins to receive the survivor benefit and instead it should go to the Retiree’s immediate family members.
When you apply for your retirement benefits, if you choose Option B, you are required to designate one or more people to receive your remaining benefits if you die. These people are called beneficiaries. You name the beneficiary/beneficiaries by filing a form with your retirement board. The form contains a blank box where you are supposed to write in the percentage that each beneficiary is to receive in the event of your death.
Here, the Retiree designated a single beneficiary, Robbins, but did not write what percentage of the benefit Robbins was to receive. The State Retirement Board refused to acknowledge Robbins as the beneficiary claiming the form was invalid because the retiree did not fill in the box with a specific percentage. Instead, the Retirement Board decided the money should be distributed to the Retiree’s estate where it would be given to people named in the will rather than Robbins.
Robbins appealed the decision that he was not entitled to the remaining retirement benefits. The Retiree’s siblings argued that although Robbins had been in a relationship with the Retiree for 20 years, they were not married and several months before the Retiree’s death the couple had broken up and his intent was that the siblings should receive the benefits. As evidence of this intent one of the siblings reported that the Retiree had told her that “he wanted nothing to do with Robbins”. The siblings also presented evidence that the Retiree had changed the beneficiary on his life insurance policy from Robbins to the siblings and a close friend.
Despite the above, Attorney Clymer won the case by arguing that the Retiree’s failure to fill in the percentage did not invalidate the form. Robbins was the only beneficiary named on the form
clearly indicating the Retiree intended for him to receive 100% of the funds.
The Court agreed stating saying that it is the Retiree’s intent at the time he filed the form, not at the time of his death which dictates who receives the benefits. If a Retiree wishes to change the beneficiary/beneficiaries he/she must takes some steps to show his intent to do so. In this case, the Retiree clearly knew how to take these steps as he changed the beneficiary on his life
If you have a question or concern about your State Retirement benefits, please contact the Law Offices of Juliane Soprano for a free consultation. There is too much at stake to go it alone.