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Superior Court upholds marital settlement agreement trumps pension beneficiary designation

Rhode island Superior Court Judge Richard Licht just issued an interesting decision involving a marital settlement agreement that will have wide application in Family Court and divorce matters. The parties entered a martial settlement agreement waiving interests in each other's pension benefits. Following their divorce, the ex-husband however never changed the beneficiary designation on his TIAA-CREF retirement account to conform with the terms of the marital settlement agreement. While the parities' were happily married, he had named his wife as beneficiary on the plan. When he subsequently died, the ex-wife claimed and received the $334,000 survivor benefits from TIAA-CREF. The executor of the ex-husband's estate sued the ex-wife to recover the proceeds. The court indicated that there was no explicit controlling precedent in Rhode Island. The court ruled that since the ex-wife explicitly waived her right to any of her husband's retirement assets, the terms of the marital settlement agreement trumped the terms of the beneficiary designation and the proceeds properly belonged to the ex-husband's estate.
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