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No divorce means widow is entitled to husband’s pension

Maureen contacted the Mid-America Pension Rights Project with a unique issue. Upon her husband’s death in 2005, she was told that she wasn’t entitled to a share of his pension because the plan had no record that her husband was married. Even though they had been married for 53 years, Maureen and her husband had been separated for many years, but they had never divorced.

After learning about the Mid-America Pension Rights Project from a friend, Maureen contacted the counseling project in 2009. The project’s staff determined that the first steps needed to get Maureen her survivor’s pension were (1) to correct her husband’s death certificate to reflect that he was married when he died, and (2) to obtain no-divorce records from the two states in which she and her husband had lived. A no-divorce record was helpful in Maureen’s case because it showed that she and her husband still married at the time of his death.  

Upon receiving the corrected death certificate and the no-divorce records, the counseling project submitted a detailed claim for benefits on Maureen’s behalf. The claim included references to specific regulations and case law showing that Maureen was entitled to a survivor pension.

Several months passed without a response from the pension plan. The law requires that plans respond to claims for benefits within 90 days of having received them, so the plan was in clear violation of the law. Finally, the counseling project contacted the company’s legal department. The company was unaware of the lack of responsiveness by the pension plan administrator and promised to respond to the project’s inquiries.

After nearly five years of hard work on Maureen’s case, the counseling project finally succeeded in getting Maureen her rightful benefit. She received a retroactive payment of more than $86,000 and is now receiving a pension of $850 per month.

The Mid-America Pension Rights Project provides free legal services in Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Tennessee. To date, the project has recovered more than $50 million in benefits for more than 11,000 clients.

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