Martin v. Gomes

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Trusts and Estates
  • Date Filed: 02-26-2014
  • Case #: A146643
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Wollheim, P.J. for the Court; Nakamoto, J.; and Schuman, S.J.

An expectancy interest is distinct from a property interest. An order relating to division of assets that addresses only property interests will not contravene a designated beneficiary's right to receive funds as an expectancy interest.

Plaintiff served as administrator of decedent's estate and sought to recover funds owed under an individual retirement account (IRA) held by American Century Investment (American). American denied the request, stating that the funds were owed to Gomes, decedent's former domestic partner, who was the listed beneficiary on the IRA. Plaintiff sued for declaratory relief, money had and received, conversion, and breach of the covenant of good faith. Plaintiff argued that because decedent and Gomes obtained a judgment dividing their assets in 1998 which ordered that the decedent "shall maintain the retirement benefits in the retirement accounts that he has accrued," and that Gomes has no right or interest in the retirement funds, the funds should properly be given to decedent's estate. The trial court dismissed the action for failure to state a claim and plaintiff appealed. The Court of Appeals held that the order relating to the retirement funds addressed a property interest which was distinct from the expectancy interest as a beneficiary. Because decedent could have changed the named beneficiary at any point but didn't, and the lack of any indication by the 1998 order that it encompassed any expectancy interest, the trial court did not err by finding in favor of defendant Gomes. Trial court's dismissal of claim for declaratory relief vacated and remanded for entry of judgment declaring that Gomes is entitled to IRA proceeds; otherwise affirmed.

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