Beneficiary Designations in Retirement Accounts

The New Jersey Appellate Division recently decided In re Estate of Matchuk, 2015 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2465 (App. Div. Oct. 28, 2015) (found here), a case involving competing claims to decedent’s retirement accounts.  Prior to marrying his wife, decedent had designated his sister as the beneficiary of his retirement accounts.  After his marriage, decedent changed the designation of only one of those accounts to his wife.  Following his death, decedent’s wife filed a Complaint seeking to name her as the beneficiary of the two accounts.  The trial court and the Appellate Division rejected the wife’s claims and affirmed its holding in Fox v. Lincoln Financial Group, 439 N.J. Super. 380, 383 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 221 N.J. 566 (2015):

“we recently considered, as [decedent’s wife] suggests, whether marriage creates a presumptive right to life insurance benefits of a spouse, “thereby revoking any contrary premarital beneficiary designation made by the deceased spouse.”  We held that marriage alone is insufficient to defeat a premarital beneficiary designation.  Ibid.  In reaching that holding, we specifically rejected the assertion that Vasconi created a presumption, triggered by marriage, that each party “intends to make the other the primary beneficiary under any life insurance policy[.]”  Id. at 387.  Rather, “[a] beneficiary designation must yield to the provisions of a separation agreement expressing an intent contrary to the policy provision.”  Ibid. (alteration in original) (quoting Vasconi, supra, 124 N.J. at 347).  There is no such determinative agreement under the facts of this case.”  Id. at *8-9.