‘Mailbox Rule’ Does Not Apply to State Retirement Plan Changes

Pennsylvania’s highest court rules that treating a beneficiary change as filed when it is put in the mail -- the so-called “mailbox rule” -- does not apply to state retirement annuity plans because the regulations provide that the documents must be received by the agency to be effective. Estate of Wilson v. State Employees Retiree Board (Pa., No. 21 WAP 2018, Nov. 20, 2019).

Lynn Wilson was a state employee, and when he retired, he had an annuity through the State Employees' Retirement System (SERS). The annuity provided Mr. Wilson with a monthly benefit and then paid the full amount of the remainder to his surviving beneficiary, his wife. Under the plan, if his wife predeceased him, there would be no death benefit unless he named a new beneficiary or changed his plan. After Mr. Wilson’s wife predeceased him, he sent in the paperwork to change his plan to name his daughters as his beneficiaries, but he died before SERS received the paperwork. SERS said the paperwork was ineffective and refused to pay his beneficiaries.

Mr. Wilson’s estate appealed, arguing that because he had mailed the forms before his death, they should be considered filed (commonly called the “mailbox rule”). SERS rejected his argument because SERS has adopted General Rules of Administrative Practice and Procedure (GRAPP) regulations that provide that the date of receipt is the date the documents were received at the agency, not the date they were mailed. The estate appealed to court, and the trial court reversed, holding that Mr. Wilson succeeded in filing the documents by mailing them. SERS appealed.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court reverses, holding that the mailbox rule does not apply to the documents because SERS has adopted GRAPP regulations that specifically reject the mailbox rule. According to the court, GRAPP regulations clearly state that “date of receipt at the office of the agency and not the date of deposit in the mails is determinative.”

For the full text of this decision, go to: https://scholar.google.com/scholar_case?case=5368224331927951605&hl=en&as_sdt=6&as_vis=1&oi=scholarr

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