Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
Alice M. Jones, Appellant
Teacher Retirement System of Texas, Appellee
THE 459TH DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY NO.
D-1-GN-18-001176, THE HONORABLE DUSTIN M. HOWELL, JUDGE
Chief Justice Rose, Justices Kelly and Smith
L. KELLY, JUSTICE.
M. Jones appeals the district court's order affirming an
order of the Board of Trustees of the Teacher Retirement
System of Texas (TRS) that denied her request to be
recognized as the beneficiary of her former husband's
death benefits. We will affirm.
Phillips was employed by Texas Tech University and was an
active member of TRS when he died in March 2015. In 1977,
Phillips had designated Jones, to whom he was married at the
time, as the primary beneficiary for death benefits payable
by TRS in the event of his death. Phillips and Jones divorced
in December 2008. The divorce decree recited
[T]he parties have entered into a written agreement as
contained in this decree by virtue of having approved this
decree as to both form and substance. To the extent permitted
by law, the parties stipulate this agreement is enforceable
as a contract. The court approves the agreement of the
parties as contained in this Final Decree of Divorce.
In the section of the divorce decree addressing the division
of the marital estate, the divorce decree provides that
Phillips is awarded
The sums, whether matured or unmatured, accrued or unaccrued,
vested or otherwise, together with all increases thereof, the
proceeds therefrom, and any other rights related to any
profit-sharing plan, retirement plan, Keogh plan, pension
plan, employee stock option plan, 401(k) plan, employee
savings plan, accrued unpaid bonuses, disability plan, or
other benefits existing by reason of the husband's past,
present, or future employment with Texas Tech University
(Teacher Retirement System of Texas[)].
decree states that Jones "is divested of all right,
title, interest, and claim in and to that property." At
no time after the divorce decree was entered did Phillips
send a new beneficiary designation form to TRS. In October
2012, Phillips submitted to TRS a form titled "Request
for Estimate of Retirement Benefits." In answer to the
question "Whom do you plan to name as beneficiary at
retirement?" Phillips wrote "undecided."
Phillips died, TRS sent letters to Jones and to the executor
of Phillips's estate (his brother). The letter to Jones,
dated April 2, 2015, stated, in pertinent part:
TRS records show that you were designated as the primary
beneficiary of this account.
Legislation passed during the 75th Legislative Session added
Section 824.101(g) of the Texas Government Code. This section
provides that the receipt by TRS of a certified copy of a
divorce decree between a TRS member or annuitant and a
designated beneficiary revokes any designation of the former
spouse as a beneficiary of the death benefits now payable.
The law applies if the designation was effective before the
date of divorce. If Section 824.101(g) would prohibit payment
of the death benefits to you, please forward a certified copy
of the divorce decree to TRS within 30 days of the date of
letter to the executor of Phillips's estate contained the
identical second paragraph, except for substituting the words
"payment to the beneficiary" for the words
"payment of the death benefits to you." The letter
to the executor also included the following sentence:
"In the absence of a certified copy of a decree of
divorce, payment will be made to the designated beneficiary
as required by law." The letter also advised the
executor that "a certified copy ...