The New England Pension Assistance Project recently assisted a 76-year old widow in Stamford, Connecticut. She was living on a modest income and having difficulty obtaining her survivor’s benefits from her late husband’s pension plan. Her husband had died in 2010 at the age of 79 without ever receiving his pension.
The client called us in April of 2011 because she had paperwork showing that her husband was vested in a pension sponsored by the Bunker-Ramo Company, which had been acquired by Honeywell long after his employment had ended. She had contacted Honeywell on her own and had been told she was not entitled to any benefit.
When we contacted Honeywell on the client’s behalf, we were told that the client was ineligible for a survivor’s benefit because her late husband had failed to file an election form giving her a Qualified Pre-Retirement Survivor Annuity. We realized immediately that this answer was completely inconsistent with the Retirement Equity Act (Section 205 of ERISA), which required that the 50% survivor annuity be the automatic form of benefit payment for any vested participant who was alive on August 23, 1984, and whose benefits were not yet in pay status on that date. It was shocking that the pension administrator was acting in a manner so blatantly incorrect in an area of well-settled law.
We filed a claim for survivor’s benefits in late August 2011, and anticipated a decision within the 90-day framework dictated by ERISA. When we did not receive a response within that period, we began a series of letters and telephone calls that ultimately led to Honeywell admitting in December 2011 that our claim was received. In May of 2012, Honeywell finally agreed to calculate and pay our client the survivor’s benefit retroactive to the date of her late husband’s death.
The retroactive lump sum and the ongoing monthly lifetime benefit, with a projected lifetime value of over $27,000, will have a significant impact on our client’s life and on her economic security.