(b) Condition:. . . Thus, the participant's waiver of the spousal benefit must state the specific nonspouse beneficiary who will receive such benefit. The waiver is not required to specify the optional form of benefit. The participant may change the optional form of benefit, but not nonspouse beneficiary, without obtaining the spouse's consent.
Treas. Reg. § 1.401(a)-20 (1991)
The Treasury Regulations attempt to interpret Congressional intent behind statutory language. They "must be sustained unless unreasonable and plainly inconsistent with the revenue statutes, and should not be overruled except for weighty reasons." Bingler v. Johnson, 394 U.S. 741, 749-750, 22 L. Ed. 2d 695, 89 S. Ct. 1439 (1969) (emphasis added). Here, the Treasury Regulations are neither unreasonable nor inconsistent with the statutory language. Moreover, Plaintiff has advanced no weighty reasons mandating their reversal.
Accordingly, they should not be overruled.
Notwithstanding the above statutes and regulations, Plaintiff argues that state law governs the resolution of this case. In support of his position, he relies on In re Estate of Hopkins, 214 Ill. App. 3d 427, 574 N.E.2d 230, 158 Ill. Dec. 436, appeal denied, 580 N.E.2d 115 (Ill. App. Ct. 1991). However, as the court in Hopkins conceded, federal law governs this issue.
A state court's interpretation of the applicable federal law is not binding on this Court. Furthermore, in Hopkins, the Illinois state court erroneously relied on Fox Valley & Vicinity Construction Workers Pension Fund v. Brown, 897 F.2d 275 (7th Cir.), cert. denied, 112 L. Ed. 2d 41, 111 S. Ct. 67 (1990). The court read Fox to hold that, "a surviving spouse can waive her interests in a plan without following [the] specific waiver requirements [of ERISA as amended in 1984]." Hopkins, 574 N.E.2d at 235 (emphasis added). However, the issue in Fox Valley was whether a divorced spouse who was designated as a beneficiary prior to the divorce would still receive a death benefit despite a provision in a divorce settlement waiving any rights to the benefit. The Seventh Circuit noted that both ERISA and the existing body of federal common law interpreting ERISA are silent on the issue of what constitutes a proper waiver in a divorce agreement. Fox Valley, 897 F.2d at 280. Therefore, it was free to turn to state law to conclude that the settlement did in fact constitute a valid waiver of the benefits under the ERISA plan.
The instant case involves a current spouse who has statutorily protected rights. Moreover, 29 U.S.C. § 1055(c) and 26 U.S.C. § 417(a) are not silent as to the proper form of consent necessary for a spouse to waive plan benefits. Instead, they outline specific requirements which must be fulfilled for a spouse to effectuate a valid waiver. As described above, these requirements were not met by the antenuptial agreement between the Deceased and Defendant. Accordingly, the Agreement does not constitute an effective waiver of Defendant's rights to the Plan's benefits, and Defendant is the proper beneficiary of the Plan.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff's motion is denied, and Defendant's motion is granted. This case is ordered closed.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Dated: New York, New York
April 8, 1992
Robert P. Patterson, Jr.