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Boggs v. Boggs - 520 U.S. 833, 117 S. Ct. 1754 (1997)

Rule:

ERISA's express pre-emption clause states that the Act "shall supersede any and all State laws insofar as they may now or hereafter relate to any employee benefit plan . . . ." § 1144(a).

Facts:

The  decedent's first wife made a testamentary transfer to their three sons (respondents) her portion of decedent's undistributed retirement benefits, an individual retirement account (IRA), employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) shares, and a monthly annuity payment. The decedent however, married his second wife (petitioner), and upon his retirement, received the retirement benefits, including those which his first wife bequeathed to the respondents. Upon decedent's death, petitioner began receiving monthly annuity payments from the company as the individual's surviving spouse. The respondents sought to recover from the petitioner the retirement benefits, the portion of the IRA, ESOP shares, and the monthly annuity payments, while the petitioner sought determination of the parties' rights to the benefits. The trial court granted summary judgment to respondents, and the appellate court affirmed.

Issue:

Does the second wife have a superior right against the respondents over the retirement benefits, the portion of the IRA, ESOP shares, and the monthly annuity payments?

Answer:

Yes.

Conclusion:

The Court reversed. The Court agreed with petitioner that the testamentary transfer made by a non-participant spouse under Louisiana law was pre-empted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). The Court ruled that, with respect to the surviving spouse annuity, the ERISA pre-empted respondents' claim because the annuity was a qualified joint and survivor annuity, the object of which was to ensure a stream of income to a surviving spouse, such as petitioner. As for decedent's monthly annuity payments, IRA, and ESOP, the court ruled that the testamentary transfer was a prohibited assignment or alienation, under 26 C.F.R. § 1.401(a)-13(c)(1)(ii).

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