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Third Circuit Holds ERISA Claim Is Barred by the Probate Exception

In Applebaum v. Fabian, et al., No. 22-1049, 2022 WL 17090172 (3d Cir. Nov. 21, 2022), Plaintiff-Appellant Edita Applebaum brought several claims against the defendants, one of which was a claim alleging that Appellees’ “misappropriation of funds” from her late husband’s Voya/ING 401K plan into his estate violated ERISA. The district court dismissed this claim and the Third Circuit affirmed. The court explained that it would be required to decide whether these proceeds were rightly part of that estate, but it cannot “(1) probate or annul a will, (2) administer a decedent’s estate, or (3) assume in rem jurisdiction over property that is in the custody of the probate court.” Though Applebaum argued that she was the valid beneficiary of her husband’s 401(k) plan and that its proceeds should have bypassed the probate system, her beneficiary designation, and thus her right to estate property, is in dispute. Because of this, the claim falls within the probate exception to the court’s jurisdiction.

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