By Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a Freehold, NJ Estate Planning Attorney

Recently a client came to me to discuss the administration of his late spouse’s Estate. Seems that during a difficult time in their marriage she removed him as beneficiary from her state pension but later, when they reconciled she apparently never reinstated him. She subsequently died and now her husband of 30 years is unable to collect the survivor spouse benefit from the state retirement system. What can be done? Unfortunately here, not much.

As it relates to changing a beneficiary in the Public Employees Retirement System, the statutes state the following:

The designation of beneficiary by a member of retirant shall be made in writing on a form satisfactory to the retirement system, and filed with the retirement system. The member or retirant may, from time to time and without consent of his death benefit designee, change the beneficiary by filing written notice of the change with the system on a form satisfactory to it. The new nomination will be effective on the date the notice, in proper form, is received by the system, and any prior nomination shall thereupon become void.

N.J.S.A. 43:15A-57.1. The law is clear that a change in beneficiary must be done on the proper form. A specific form can be found online to do this. On December 13, 2012, the Division of Pensions and Benefits changed its policy stating that for all active employees, beneficiary designations are to be made through the Division’s online system, the Member Benefits Online system, and paper forms would not be accepted except for designations to a trust, organization, charity, or corporation; a formal or informal trust; through a power of attorney; by court order; or for an unequal distribution of a fixed percentage or definite dollar amount.) Because Brenda filed the appropriate paperwork to change her beneficiary the first time, despite attempting to rescind that form, the state under the law must respect the properly filed and designated beneficiary, which would be the bother.

To discuss your NJ Estate Planning matter, please contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. toll-free at (855) 376-5291 or email him at fniemann@hnlawfirm.com.  Please ask us about our video conferencing consultations if you are unable to come to our office.