Sunday, August 14, 2005

OJ, pensions, ERISA and golf

Eight years after the families of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman won $33.5 million judgments against O. J. Simpson, many are still scratching their heads that Simpson is living lavishly while much of the award remains unpaid. How can this be?

The answer is that O. J. had some pretty smart financial advisors. During his years as an NFL star and advertising pitchman, Simpson built up hefty sums in his NFL pension and personal pensions set up through various companies he established. Then he left the money inside the defined benefit plans rather than rolling it into an IRA where he may have had more flexibility with investments. Today he draws $25,000 per month from the NFL pension alone.

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) states that employer retirement plans including all types of defined benefit plans "may not be assigned or alienated." The Browns and the Goldmans can't touch O. J.'s pensions.

Despite the Simpson case, it is in society's best interest to protect retirement assets from judgments and other creditors. With an already dismal national savings rate, further discouraging participation in retirement plans wouldn't be in the country's best interest. But ERISA and the subsequent 1992 Supreme Court case, Patterson v. Shumate, extended protection only to ERISA plans. IRAs, Roth IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs, SEPs, etc. were not protected.

Finally, the courts and congress have moved to extend protection to nearly all forms of retirement accounts. On April 4th of this year the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Rousey v. Jacoway that IRAs are "similar plans" and deserved the same sort of protection afforded to ERISA plans.

Additionally, The Bankruptcy Abuse Protection and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA), signed into law on April 20, 2005, and effective on October 17, 2005, has substantially increased and simplified bankruptcy creditor protection for retirement accounts. Virtually all retirement accounts will now be exempt assets in bankruptcy proceedings.

One last word about O.J.--Simpson chooses not to work since any earned income would only be seized by the court. So he is forced to play golf every day...something's just not right.


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