Judge Gives Death Benefits to Parents

January 10, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Ruling that a Massachusetts couple's marriage was over in everything but the technicalities when the husband killed himself, a federal judge has awarded death benefits in the case to the man's parents.

US District Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV of the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled that it was more equitable to award the $208,000 in benefits from Darren Forcier’s policy to his parents because of the nature of his relationship with wife Doris and the short time it existed – less than two years, BNA reported.

Darren Forcier, a software engineer for Macromedia Inc., committed suicide October 21, 2003, before his divorce became final. He participated in a group life insurance plan administered by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., and, according to the court, had not designated a beneficiary.

With no named beneficiary, Macromedia’s plan stated that MetLife would pay benefits “to one or more of the following persons who survive you: (1) spouse; (2) child; (3) parent; (4) brother or sister.”

Rejecting Doris Forcier’s argument that the plan provision actually represented a hierarchy of those to be paid in the event of no designated beneficiary, Saylor instead ruled that the plan contained permissible language that would allow the benefits to be paid to Darren’s spouse, child, parent, or sibling, but in no mandatory order.

Further, Saylor asserted that while the Forciers were legally married at the time of his suicide, the benefits should properly go to Darren Forcier’s parents because, among other things, the court noted that the marriage was very short and “apparently unhappy.”

“Marriage, even a failed marriage, is hardly a technicality, and the Court gives substantial weight to the fact that Doris was Darren’s spouse at his death. But there was nothing left to this marriage other than its legal status,” Saylor wrote.

The case is Forcier v. Forcier, D. Mass., No. 04-40158-FDS, 12/28/05.