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Vested employer-provided health-insurance premiums are an asset

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The Indiana Supreme Court held that employer-provided health-insurance benefits constitute an asset once they have vested in a party to the marriage, and addressed for the first time the possible methods of valuing these benefits in marriage dissolution. This conclusion led one justice to dissent because it disrupts existing dissolution property division law.

Anne Bingley wanted the premiums paid by Charles Bingley’s former employer to a health-insurance company as part of his pension plan to be considered property subject to division in their divorce. The trial court held the benefits didn’t constitute a marital asset, which the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed.

Four of the justices reversed, holding that employer-provided health-insurance benefits do constitute an asset once they have vested in a party to the marriage. They found Charles’ health-insurance benefits constitute an intangible asset, and whether a right to a present or future benefit constitutes an asset that should be included in marital property depends mainly on whether it has vested at the time of the dissolution. Navistar, from which he retired, was paying his premiums at the time the marriage ended and he had the present right to enjoy the benefits.

Chief Justice Randall T. Shepard noted the illiquidity of his benefits is relevant to the value a court may assign to an asset but not to whether benefits constitute an asset in the first place.

In Anne M. Bingley v. Charles B. Bingley, No. 02S03-1002-CV-122, the justices described three possible methods for valuing these health-insurance benefits, but noted other methods may be more appropriate in other circumstances.

The justices were unable to find any court opinions in which two of the methods were used: a trial court valuing health-insurance benefits by considering the cost of obtaining comparable alternative benefits, or by considering the cost of providing medical services covered by health insurance.

The final method – valuing the benefits by considering the premium subsidy from the employer, has been assumed to be the appropriate method by some academics and practitioners, noted the chief justice.

Then the question arises as to how to divide the assets between the parties. There is a rebuttable presumption that an equal division is just and reasonable but a party may rebut that presumption.

The majority remanded for the valuation of the benefits and reconsideration of the division of assets.

Justice Brent Dickson dissented because he believed the majority opinion “expands the division of marital property contrary to statute, intrudes upon the legislature’s public policy prerogatives, and significantly and harmfully disrupts Indiana marriage dissolution law and practice.”

“One extremely troubling application of today’s ruling is its impact in dissolution cases involving Hoosiers with retirement medical benefits from their United States military service,” he wrote. Usually, a non-military spouse will almost always lose this benefit when divorcing, but under today’s holding, the military retiree’s health benefits would be considered divisible marital property and would warrant a sizeable valuation because of the potentially lengthy time the military retiree would be eligible for the lifetime benefit.

This would likely preclude a divorcing military retiree from retaining any other marital property and require post-dissolution periodic property settlement payments made to the former spouse, something Justice Dickson doubts the legislature intended.

“Today’s holding also introduces other substantial challenges to the valuation and equitable distribution of marital property as parties and courts attempt to apply this new standard to the wide variety of non-pension, assured future benefit packages that are becoming more commonplace with many employers. For example, Hewlett-Packard (HP) provides discounts to its retirees, allowing them to purchase HP products ranging from laptops to printer ink cartridges at a reduced price,” he wrote. “Assigning a present value to such vested benefits will be a formidable if not impossible task.”
 

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  1. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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