spousal protection | Ed Slott and Company, LLC

spousal protection

The Limits of ERISA Spousal Protection

A recent federal court case from West Virginia illustrates that the spouse of a 401(k) participant usually has no right to prevent the plan from paying the participant a lump sum distribution. In Gifford v. Burton, a Mr. Gifford (his first name is omitted in the decision) was an optician at Walmart and a participant in the Walmart 401(k) plan. He was married to Sara Gifford, who was his sole beneficiary under the plan. In February 2021, Mr. Gifford received a distribution of all of his 401(k) funds and deposited those funds into an IRA. He then designated his daughter, Emma Gifford, as 90% beneficiary of his IRA and wife Sara as 10% beneficiary.

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