Q & A Session – Pension Beneficiary


Ask the Lawyer received the following question (paraphrased for easier reading and clarity) from a reader on a legal matter that might be of interest to the entire audience.


My brother passed away in 2010. He was a federal employee. He was divorced in 1993 but never changed his beneficiary. At the time of his death, his ex-wife was still listed as the beneficiary for his pension. In the divorce degree both parties signed away any right to retirement benefits. When my brother passed away, his ex-wife agreed that she had no claim to the pension and submitted a disclaimer to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). OPM denied the disclaimer. My brother’s ex-wife refuses to claim the money and disburse it to the rightful heirs. Is there any recourse for me to take to get OPM to disburse the funds to the rightful heirs?


A designation of beneficiary trumps a divorce decree in the event of a death, even if a separation or divorce from that designated beneficiary occurred and the beneficiary designation remained unchanged by the plan’s participant. The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that a divorce decree does not waive an ex-spouse’s rights to retirement benefits if the beneficiary designation remained unchanged post-divorce and named the ex-spouse as the beneficiary. See Kennedy v. Plan Administrator for DuPont Savings and Investment Plan, 555 U.S. 285 (2009). Thus, an ex-spouse’s waiver of a right to the participant’s pension benefits in a divorce decree does not invalidate the participant’s beneficiary designation made in accordance to the pension plan.

To avoid this result, plan participants should check the beneficiary designations of their retirement account and pension plan to ensure that the designated beneficiary assigned is the person the participant wants to receive the retirement account or pension in the event of a death.

Bill Bransford is managing partner of Shaw, Bransford & Roth, PC.

Disclaimer: Ask a Lawyer publishes information on this website for informational purposes only. Information on this website is intended – but not promised, guaranteed, or warranted – to reflect correct, complete and current developments. In addition, the contents of the website do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the attorney. Information from this website is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific legal advice, nor should you consider it as such. You should not act, or refrain from acting, based on information on this website without seeking specific legal advice about your particular circumstances. No attorney-client relationship between you and Ask a Lawyer’s author is created by the transmission of information to or from this site.


About Author


  1. I was awarded survivor benefits by divorce decree of a CSRS employee. Prior to reaching age 55, I remarried, however, this marriage was annulled. According to CSRS Handbook, Chapter 74 Page 6-7 Paragraph C it states that annuity can be reinstated if annullment has specific wording which my annullment does. OPM has denied me several times. It is now with MSPB. If they do not overrule OPM, what is my next step?

  2. I elected to take the vera visp 25k buyout. I am 65 with 31 years csrs. Back in 1996 March the csrs withdrawls from our les changed. From Oct 1981 till Mar 96 I had $26,409.42. That was on Mar 16, 96. Mar 30, 96 I had in the csrs account $85,74. The latest les statement says I have $48,215.50, That was on 1/20/12. If you add the two figures together you come up with $74,643.92. Every one I have talked to says your retiremen t annuity is based on years of service and your high 3. If holding on to these two les statements for all this time wasnt important, why would they have told us they would directly affect our retirement annuity? PLease give some clarity. Thank you, John Elliott

Leave A Reply