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In re Christie

Supreme Court of New York, Second Department

July 26, 2017

In the Matter of Anthony J. Christie, deceased. Diane D. Edwards-McMahon, respondent; Sandra L. Christie, appellant. File No. 257/13

          Submitted - April 3, 2017

         D52909 M/htr

          Rider, Weiner & Frankel, P.C., New Windsor, NY (Jeffrey S. Sculley of counsel), for appellant.

          Annette G. Hasapidis, South Salem, NY, for respondent.

          JOHN M. LEVENTHAL, J.P., SYLVIA O. HINDS-RADIX, HECTOR D. LASALLE, VALERIE BRATHWAITE NELSON, JJ.

          DECISION & ORDER

         In a probate proceeding in which Diane D. Edwards-McMahon, as executor of the decedent's estate, petitioned pursuant to SCPA 2103 and 2104 for the turnover of property allegedly withheld from the estate, Sandra L. Christie appeals from (1) an order of the Surrogate's Court, Orange County (Onofry, S.), dated September 16, 2014, which granted Diane D. Edwards-McMahon's motion for summary judgment on the petition and denied her motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) to dismiss the petition and for summary judgment dismissing the petition, and (2) a decree of the same court dated October 15, 2014, which, upon the order, inter alia, directed her to disgorge to the estate funds received from the decedent's pension plan.

         ORDERED that the appeal from the order is dismissed; and it is further, ORDERED that the decree is affirmed; and it is further, ORDERED that one bill of costs is awarded to Diane D. Edwards-McMahon.

         The appeal from the order must be dismissed because the right of direct appeal therefrom terminated with the entry of the decree (see Matter of Aho, 39 N.Y.2d 241, 248). The issues raised on the appeal from the order are brought up for review and have been considered on the appeal from the decree (see CPLR 5501[a][1]).

         In 1969, the decedent, Anthony J. Christie (hereinafter the decedent), and Sandra L. Christie (hereinafter Sandra) were married. Throughout their marriage, the decedent was employed by International Business Machines (hereinafter IBM) and earned a pension.

         In 1987, the couple entered into a separation agreement wherein Sandra waived "all right, title and interest to any pension benefits the [decedent] may ha[v]e with his employer, I.B.M. Corp., as well as any and all prior or future pension rights he may have." However, the couple did not divorce at that time.

         In 1995, the decedent retired from IBM, and he began receiving his pension in 1996. The decedent elected to receive his pension benefits pursuant to a plan that included a "qualified joint and survivor annuity" (29 USC § 1055[a][1]; hereinafter QJSA), a type of plan defined by the Federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (29 USC ch 18; hereinafter ERISA). The decedent designated Sandra as the beneficiary of the QJSA. Pursuant to this plan, if Sandra survived the decedent, she would continue to receive a portion of the pension benefit for the remainder of her lifetime.

         In 1998, the decedent and Sandra entered into a second separation agreement in which the decedent agreed to pay Sandra $60, 000 "in exchange for [Sandra's] interest in the [decedent's] retirement/pension and/or bank accounts in effect at the time of the signing of this Agreement, and the waiving of maintenance." The decedent and Sandra were divorced in 1999 by a judgment which incorporated, but did not merge, the terms of both separation agreements. The decedent never changed his designation of beneficiary for his pension benefits. In 2003, the decedent married Diane D. Edwards-McMahon (hereinafter Diane), and in 2013, he died. Diane was appointed executor of the decedent's estate.

         After the decedent's death, the IBM pension plan began paying benefits to Sandra pursuant to the terms of the QJSA. Diane, as executor of the decedent's estate, petitioned pursuant to SCPA 2103 and 2104 for the turnover of the QJSA benefits to the estate, alleging that Sandra waived her right to those benefits. Diane moved for summary judgment on her petition, and Sandra moved pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) to dismiss the petition and for summary judgment dismissing the petition. The Surrogate's Court granted Diane's motion and denied Sandra's motion, finding that Sandra waived her right to the QJSA benefits, and imposed a constructive trust on the proceeds of the QJSA in Diane's favor. Thereafter, the court entered a decree, inter alia, directing Sandra to disgorge the proceeds of the QJSA to the estate. Sandra appeals. We affirm.

         The Internal Revenue Code defines a "qualified joint and survivor annuity" as an annuity which, inter alia, is "for the life of the participant with a survivor annuity for the life of the spouse" (26 USC § 417[b][1]). If a participant dies after the annuity starting date, the spouse to whom the participant was married on the annuity starting date is entitled to QJSA protection even if the participant and the spouse are no ...


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