Appeal from decree of Court of Common Pleas, Orphans' Court Division, of Allegheny County, No. 2961 of 1968, in re estate of John H. Adams, deceased.
P. Christian Hague, with him Meyer, Unkovic & Scott, for appellant.
James C. Larrimer, with him Dougherty, Larrimer & Lee, for appellee.
Jones, Eagen, O'Brien, Pomeroy and Barbieri, JJ. Opinion by Mr. Justice Pomeroy. The former Mr. Chief Justice Bell and Mr. Justice Roberts took no part in the consideration or decision of this case. The former Mr. Justice Barbieri took no part in the decision of this case. Dissenting Opinion by Mr. Chief Justice Jones.
The question presented by this appeal is whether a wife who was named by her husband as beneficiary of the balance in a retirement fund both by name and relationship continues to be the beneficiary after divorce, her husband not having exercised his right prior to his death to change the beneficiary designation.
John H. Adams, the decedent, was an employee of Allegheny County and as such a participant in the Allegheny County Employees' Retirement System.*fn1 On December 9, 1966 he married Patricia Ann Kennedy,
the appellant, and six days later advised the Retirement Board of Allegheny County that in the event of his death any balance to his credit should be paid to Patricia Ann Adams, his wife. The exact form of designation is reproduced in the margin.*fn2 Within ten months John and Patricia Adams were divorced.*fn3 On May 31, 1968 John Adams died, leaving $2,400 to his credit in the Retirement Fund, and, as stated above, without having changed the beneficiary designation relative thereto. The court below disallowed the claim of Patricia Kennedy, awarding the fund to the estate of decedent's mother, who was decedent's next of kin.*fn4 This appeal followed, and we reverse.
The Allegheny County Employees' Retirement System was created pursuant to the Second Class County Code, supra, note 1. Section 1714 of the Act (16 P.S. § 4714) provides in part as follows: "(a) Any person contributing monthly into the retirement fund who shall, for any cause, cease to be a county employe before he or she shall be eligible to receive the benefits of the retirement allowances, the total amount of the contributions paid into the retirement fund by such county employe shall be refunded to him or her by the board, or, in the event of the death of any such county employe, the amount of said contributions shall be paid to such person or persons as he or she shall have designated in writing, as filed with the board, as his or her beneficiary, or to his or her estate. If no person or persons have been designated as his or her beneficiary, or no notice has been filed with the board to pay the amount of such contributions to his or her estate, as herein provided, then the board is herewith authorized to pay such contributions to the executor, administrator,
surviving spouse, or next of kin of the deceased county employe . . . ." The employee, Adams, duly designated appellant in writing as his beneficiary and filed the writing with the Board. There was no restriction as to whom he might designate, and no requirement that it be someone to whom he was related, although the designation forms had a space in which to describe the relationship, if any, of the beneficiary to the employee. The narrow question is ...