Practice Makes Perfect

This is yet another case where a retired employee’s failure to designate his wife-in this case his fifth-to receive a survivor’s annuity means she gets nothing.

Regular readers recall several cases reported by where a widow or widower has unsuccessfully tried to get OPM to recognize a survivor annuity benefit and end up before the federal appeals court only to find no support. Here is another one. (Meunier v. Office of Personnel Management (CAFC No. 2013-3135 (nonprecedential), 2/11/14)

This one perhaps stands out given that Shirley Meunier was the retiree’s fifth wife and her husband was found to be quite schooled in how to elect a survivor annuity.

The same month they were married, Mr. Meunier submitted a Designation of Beneficiary form to OPM which entitled Shirley Meunier to receive his lump-sum benefits. For whatever reason, he did not elect to provide her with a survivor annuity.

When Mr. Meunier died several years later, OPM denied Shirley’s application for the basic reason that she had not been designated to receive a survivor annuity. The Merit Systems Protection Board affirmed and Ms. Meunier took her case to court.

This one was pretty straightforward. By law, Mr. Meunier had two years from the date of his remarriage to Shirley to elect the survivor annuity. He could have simply sent a letter to OPM doing so, as he had in fact done in the past with the first two wives. Since he did not, Shirley had to convince the powers that be that her husband never got the required notice from OPM and that there was good evidence that he in fact intended for her to get the survivor annuity. (Opinion p. 3)

The Board and court found that OPM met its burden to show the notice had been sent. But Shirley Meunier fell short in meeting her burden to show that her husband never received notice and that he intended for her to have the annuity.  Here’s what the MSPB Administrative Judge had to say on the matter: “…It is apparent from Mr. Meunier’s actions relating to his other four marriages that he knew he had to notify OPM to request survivor annuity benefits for his new wife. Although he changed his beneficiary to provide the appellant with lump-sum [death] benefit[s], he did not include a designation for the appellant to receive a survivor annuity.” (p. 6)

The court elaborated, pointing out that when he married his first two wives, Mr. Meunier elected the survivor annuity only to remove it upon divorce from each.  So he obviously knew when and how to do that. When he married his third wife, he did ask OPM how much the survivor annuity would cost, but then did not elect it. Wives three and four only got onto his health benefit policy. (pp. 7-8) In short, Mr. Meunier was found to be well aware of the ins and outs of electing a survivor annuity.

Meunier v. OPM

About the Author

Susan McGuire Smith spent most of her federal legal career with NASA, serving as Chief Counsel at Marshall Space Flight Center for 14 years. Her expertise is in government contracts, ethics, and personnel law.