Even Pending Appeal, Winners and Losers in KRS & KTRS Reforms

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If you’re a family law attorney in the Cincinnati metro area, there’s a good chance you’ve dealt with a client or spouse of a client who has accrued benefits under either the Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS), or the Kentucky Teachers’ Retirement System (KTRS), and you’re no doubt aware of the current uncertainties (merited and otherwise) surrounding their future form and amount(s).

That same uncertainty has spurred some public employees who participate in these plans to retire earlier than they might otherwise have planned, rankling others who feel they’re “gaming the system,” or “double dipping.”  Two Former (and likely to be newly re-elected, this fall) County Prosecutors have found themselves under unexpected scrutiny, and the scapegoats of some Kentucky Legislators (for whom there might be some convenience in highlighting the $60-odd thousand yearly pension of a few individual members, in lieu of the greater systems’ $64 billion in unfunded liabilities, and the stalled reform thereof), for commencing their own pension benefits and running for likely re-election to the same office they vacated to commence them from. In the event either former County Attorney Bobbi Jo Lewis or former Commonwealth’s Attorney Laura Witt return to the offices they retired from, they would draw a salary while receiving pension benefits for their previous service and participation under the Plan(s).

From their perspectives, these attorneys are just making a choice they’re entitled to make, regarding benefits their years of service have entitled them to take. And both cited the uncertainty of ongoing (currently stalled, pending a State Supreme Court ruling on the Governor’s Appeal of the state Attorney General’s successful suit to block the already watered down, but still controversial, Senate Bill 151) reform efforts, as or among their primary reasons for doing so. And, since both are running unopposed, the prospect of their receiving both salaries and pension benefits, come January, seems assured.

In your own practice, you may have encountered clients whose individual benefits, either as Plan Participant or Alternate Payee, seem uncertain at present (whether for real or perceived reasons), which can spell trouble for and complicate property settlement negotiations. And, as Attorneys Lewis and Witt’s examples make clear, individual circumstances and considerations are unique to every plan beneficiary.

The takeaway:
While the current, pending legislation reserves most of its effects for future employees, or those whose benefits in the systems are new or otherwise limited, any negotiations concerning or offsetting individual benefits under the (potentially) affected retirement systems should be done with full cognizance of all prospective changes thereto. Or, if neither the parties nor counsel(ors) wish to navigate the full text of Senate Bill 151 to deduce the exact effect and extent thereof such reform may have on a party or parties’ prospective benefits, you may find that the safest, most assuredly equitable solution is to avoid any offsetting of (potentially) affected benefits entirely, and to instead divide the benefits or portion(s) therein between the parties via… you guessed it: QDRO.

(If you do, be sure to utilize the form specified under KRS Chapter 13A, or other controlling regulation, or shoot an email to your friendly, QDRO blogging expert for a contract to get started.)

Be sure to check back for updates leading up to Governor Bevin’s September 20th Kentucky Supreme Court challenge, or read more about previous iterations and developments of Kentucky's pension reform on our blog, here.