On appeal from the Board of Trustees of the Public Employees' Retirement System.
O'Brien, Scalera and Stern. The opinion of the court was delivered by O'Brien, J.A.D.
[234 NJSuper Page 94] This appeal is from a determination by the Board of Trustees, State of New Jersey, Department of the Treasury, Division of Pensions, Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS or respondent) not to honor a change of beneficiary form signed by Thomas Boyle (decedent), and mailed by his attorney to PERS before his death, but received and filed subsequent to his death. We reverse.
Decedent was a member of PERS by virtue of his employment with the New Jersey Highway Authority. At the time of his divorce from Barbara Boyle, he agreed to designate three of his unemancipated children as beneficiaries under his life insurance policy to the extent of $7,000 each. The designation as to each was revocable upon emancipation. Pursuant to that agreement, decedent executed a designation of beneficiary form naming the three unemancipated children as beneficiaries for the life insurance policy afforded him through his employment. The form designated his three unemancipated children, each to the extent of $7,000, and his friend, Rose Marie Capaldo,*fn1 as beneficiary of the balance. This form was sent to respondent by decedent's attorney by letter dated April 22, 1980, but was not stamped as received by respondent until May 13, 1980. The endorsement reflecting this designation of beneficiary was not made by Prudential Insurance Company until December 22, 1980.
On April 19, 1987, the last of the three designated children became 18 years of age, but the youngest child did not complete high school until July 30, 1987. On August 4, 1987, decedent executed a new designation of beneficiary form to name his second wife, Rose Marie Boyle, as primary beneficiary of his group life insurance and to name, as contingent beneficiaries, the six children born of his prior marriage to Barbara Boyle and the two children born of his second wife's prior marriage. By letter of August 7, 1987, decedent's attorney forwarded the new designation of beneficiary form to respondent.*fn2
Decedent died on August 12, 1987. On August 18, his surviving spouse, Rose Marie Boyle, nee Capaldo, filed a claim for benefits pursuant to the designation of beneficiary form executed by her deceased husband on August 4, 1987. The
Board of Trustees of respondent, at its meeting of October 21, 1987, decided it could not accept as valid the form executed by decedent on August 4, 1987, since it was not received by the Division of Pensions until August 17, 1987, five days after his death. Pursuant to the appeal of Rose Marie Boyle, the matter was referred to the Office of Administrative Law for a hearing.
After a prehearing conference by telephone on February 5, 1988, it was concluded that a plenary hearing was unnecessary and a stipulation of facts was prepared and filed. In his initial decision, the administrative law judge (ALJ) concluded that the designation of beneficiary form executed by decedent before his death, but not received and filed until after his death was legally insufficient to change the beneficiaries previously designated by him. Respondent accepted the decision of the ALJ on June 17, 1988 and denied payment of the death benefits in accordance with the August 4, 1987 designation of beneficiaries. Decedent's estate and Rose Marie Boyle, as executrix, appeal.*fn3
In reaching his determination, the ALJ construed the language of two statutes, N.J.S.A. 43:15A-57j, which reads in pertinent part:
A member who has elected to purchase the additional death benefit coverage provided by this section may file with the board of trustees, and alter from time to time during his lifetime, as desired, a duly attested, written, new nomination of the payee of the death benefit provided under this section.*fn4 [Footnote supplied.]
and the provisions of N.J.S.A. 43:15A-57.1, which in pertinent ...