Two weeks ago, a court in Lancaster County addressed a seemingly uncomplicated question: Does death defeat distributions to a former spouse? The answer may give pause to those who possess significant amounts of marital property. Moreover, it may extend marital property beyond the grave.
Pensions are marital property regardless of other intentions
A couple married 33 years separated upon the husband’s petition. Each brought benefits under PSERS (Public School Employment Retirement System) as an asset subject to equitable distribution, the standard in Pennsylvania. Under a Qualified Domestic Relations Order, the husband’s estate, as an alternate payee, would receive his share of his wife’s pension in the event of his premature death.
In finding for the husband, the court highlighted both a legal and practical distinction applicable to both prospective couples and those contemplating divorce. First, state pensions constitute marital property subject to equitable division as part of fair determination of property rights. Second, the statute and its factors operate independent from other financial presumptions or decisions made by the parties.
Account for your assets prior to divorce
The prospect of divorce itself can effect mental and physical stress. Both parties will confront financial dilemmas that will impact their lifestyle, as well as those who survive them. Provisions for property division require attorneys who understand how new interpretations of legal concepts can impact the fallout from terminating a marriage.