The Moneyist: My mom asked for a divorce. My dad made his mother his pension beneficiary — and then he killed himself. Now my mom and grandma are feuding. Who’s right?

The Moneyist: My mom asked for a divorce. My dad made his mother his pension beneficiary — and then he killed himself. Now my mom and grandma are feuding. Who’s right?

22 Feb    Finance News

Dear Moneyist,

On May 30, 2018 my mother moved out all her belongings and informed my father that she was leaving him after 30 years of marriage, and that she would be seeking a divorce. 

No papers had been filed at that point. The next day my father went to work and claimed that he was divorced and wanted to change the beneficiary of his pension plan over to his mother instead of his wife. They believed him and let him change the beneficiary. The following day, he took all of his guns over to his mother’s house and took his own life. 

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Now my grandmother and my mother are fighting over the pension. I know he didn’t list me as the beneficiary as he knew I would share the money with my mom if she needed it. My grandmother and mother both have lawyers, and they both say that they are going to get this pension. It’s been dragging on for nearly two years.  

Last month, they finally had a deposition during which my grandmother lied under oath. That required me to do a deposition. They asked painful questions, as I have not quite come to terms with my dad’s suicide. I don’t want this to get dragged into a long saga, where I have to go to court again. I don’t expect to get any of this pension, nor do I want any of it. It was my dad’s money. 

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Mom probably would have been entitled to half if they divorced. The way I see it grandma should get half and my mom should get half. What’s your opinion?

Tired of being caught in the middle

Dear Caught,

It sounds like you have been through a terrible ordeal and the ongoing fracas over your father’s pension has compounded that trauma. I can understand why you are eager to put all of this behind you and wish that your grandmother and mother would lay down their swords, so you can all move on with your lives. People are grieving and, I imagine, both sad and angry. Your grandmother will do her best to ensure that she is the sole beneficiary.

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We could speculate about what might have happened had your father lived and your parents had gotten a divorce, but divorce law varies by state, and permission to remove a spouse as a pension beneficiary falls under federal law. It’s easier and, perhaps, wiser to deal with what happened rather than what would have happened if they had developed differently. Your parents were still married when your father died and unfortunately he lied to change the beneficiary on his pension.

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The court and/or company will likely make a ruling sooner rather than later, and that will take it out of your mother and grandmother’s hands. The healthiest move for you now would be to remove yourself from the feud between these two women and, even better, ask them not to discuss the issue with you. This is a stressful enough time, and feeling trapped between these two family matriarchs cannot be easy. My hunch is the court will find in favor of your mother.

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My view is your grandmother should abide by the law: Your parents were not divorced when your father died and, as such, your grandmother had no legal right to this pension. Would it be nice for your mother to split the pension with your grandmother and vice-versa? Sure. However, given that your grandmother is vying for the entire pension, I don’t see them coming to such a resolution anytime soon. The onus here, in my opinion, is on your grandmother to stand down.

In the meantime, take care of yourself and remove yourself from this acrimonious situation.

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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