APPEAL FROM FAYETTE CIRCUIT COURT HONORABLE JO ANN WISE, JUDGE ACTION NO. 96-CI-02799
BRIEF FOR APPELLANT: Michelle Hurley Greg Hunter Anna L. Dominick Lexington, Kentucky
BRIEF FOR APPELLEE: Amy E. Dougherty Carolyn L. Kenton Lexington, Kentucky
BEFORE: CLAYTON, CAPERTON, AND TAYLOR, JUDGES.
Ruth Ann Sadler appeals the Fayette Circuit Court's order denying her motion to declare that Barbara Lois Van Buskirk waived beneficiary rights to Richard Van Buskirk's Individual Retirement Account in the Buskirk's property settlement agreement. After careful consideration, we affirm the trial court.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Barbara Van Buskirk was married to Richard Van Buskirk for thirty-six years. In 1996, they divorced and entered into a property settlement agreement (hereinafter "the Agreement"). Under the terms of the Agreement, Barbara and Richard waived their rights to each other's individual retirement accounts (hereinafter "IRA") and their rights to take against the other's estate upon death. In particular, the terms of the Agreement specified that each party retained the retirement accounts held in his or her individual name and that each party disclaimed all interest in any retirement account held by the other.
At the time the Agreement was effectuated, Richard owned a Dreyfus IRA. He opened the IRA on March 13, 1986, and named Barbara as the beneficiary. Richard, however, never changed the name of the beneficiary after the divorce. Later, Richard married Ruth Ann Sadler. On November 15, 2011, Richard died, and Ruth Ann was appointed administratrix of his estate. Subsequently, she contacted Dreyfus about the aforementioned IRA. Dreyfus informed Ruth Ann that Richard never completed its internal forms to change the named beneficiary and that Barbara was the named beneficiary on the account.
On April 30, 2012, Ruth Ann filed in Fayette Circuit Court a motion to intervene and a motion to declare that Barbara had no rights to the Dreyfus account. Barbara did not file a responsive pleading and did not appear at the May 4, 2012 hearing when the motions were heard. The trial court granted Ruth Ann's motion to intervene and took the other motion under submission. Further, the trial court issued an order allowing Barbara thirty days to file a written objection to the motion. Although Barbara did not file an objection to the motion, Ruth Ann filed a memorandum of law in support of her motion.
On June 27, 2012, the trial court denied Ruth Ann's motion. Ruth Ann now appeals from this order. She maintains that Barbara has no right to the Dreyfus IRA because of the terms of the Van Buskirks' Settlement Agreement. Barbara disputes this interpretation by observing that the Agreement only addresses the ownership rights, not the beneficial interest of the retirement account. Accordingly, no violation of the Agreement has occurred since Richard designated Barbara as the beneficiary of his IRA account, which was a privilege of his ownership rights.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
In the Commonwealth, a property settlement agreement between the parties to a dissolution action is an enforceable contract. Pursley v. Pursley, 144 S.W.3d 820, 826 (Ky. 2004); Kentucky Revised Statutes (KRS) 403.180(5). In general, the construction and interpretation of contracts constitute questions of law for the lower court. Cinelli v. Ward, 997 S.W.2d 474, 476 (Ky. App. 1998). ...