Recently a prospective client called and asked for some advice. She was wondering if her agreement needed to be modified. And could I help her? She had been divorced for several years and her ex-husband had recently passed away. She was wondering if she was still the beneficiary of his pension and therefore upon his passing, could she receive all of the survivor/spouse pension benefits? She spoke to someone in the HR Department at her ex-husband’s company, who told her that since her divorce she wasn’t the spouse any more and although she was once listed on the designation of beneficiary form as beneficiary, the company didn’t recognize that, because since the divorce, she was no longer a spouse.
I asked her if she had a copy of the divorce decree and what does the separation agreement say.
She said, “We didn’t write a separation agreement. We didn’t want to spend the money on mediating this or hiring an attorney to draft the agreement so we just did it ourselves.”
“What did you agree to?” I asked.
Her reply was, “Well I really don’t remember. I don’t know if I even have my copy of the agreement any more. Since my husband passed away, I can’t get a copy from him.”
I told her to get a copy of the divorce decree from the court and see what the judge ordered, because the settlement agreement will be incorporated into the divorce decree.
She said, “But we didn’t write a settlement agreement.” And I asked, “Why didn’t you have somebody draft an agreement for you?”
Her comment was, “We wanted to save the money. I just thought I would stay as the beneficiary of his pension.”
Today, when we draft agreements, we specifically craft language that addresses if you want to continue to keep the former spouse as the beneficiary post-divorce. Unfortunately, the prospective client and her husband did not do that.
So for those out there who are thinking about doing your own divorce–don’t do it. Now you know why!