Always Read Documents Before Signing Them: A Story

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Always Read Documents Before Signing Them: A Story

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Posted By DAM Firm | July 19 2016 | English

Article 16-30

¡No Se Deje!

Elpidia Braza trusted her husband, Emiliano Braza, completely.  When he drove her to the bank and asked her to sign a form in front of a Notary Public, she quickly and gladly complied.  Elpidia Braza DID NOT READ THE FORM BEFORE SIGNING IT.  Neither Mr. Braza nor the Notary Public explained what the form was for or what the effect of her signature would be.  Elpidia Braza never asked either of them to explain the purpose of the form or the consequences of her signature.  After Emiliano died, she discovered the tragic truth regarding the form that she had signed for him.

Emiliano Braza was a long time government employee.  Shortly before retiring, he filed his application for retirement benefits.  The application allowed him to decide how he wanted to take his benefits.  One option was to take a reduced amount of money during his lifetime so that his wife could also receive a pension for her lifetime after his death.  Option two would provide him with more money during his lifetime but would provide no benefits to his wife after his death.  Emiliano chose this option even thought his wife would get nothing after his death.

After Emiliano died, Mrs. Braza filed an application for spousal survivors’ benefits under his retirement plan.  The benefits office denied her application stating that the form that she had signed was a document that proved her Consent to her husband’s election to take an increased amount of benefits during his lifetime while eliminating any benefits to her after his death.  In fact, the form that she signed clearly states that this option cannot be used unless the spouse waives her right to a lifetime pension by signing the form.  Mrs. Braza was shocked and extremely concerned about her financial future.  To make matters worse, her husband’s action also eliminated her health insurance benefits after his death.

Mrs. Braza filed an appeal arguing that the form did not legally constitute a valid waiver of her right to the lifetime benefits.  The appeals court disagreed and said that the form itself and other documents made it clear that spouses will receive survival benefits unless they sign the waiver and consent form.  The court said that Mrs. Braza’s “UNAWARENESS OF HER RIGHTS AND OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE FORM WERE NOT DUE TO ANY INSUFFICIENCY OF THE FORM, BUT RATHER TO HER ADMITTED FAILURE TO READ THE FORM.”  It added that no changes or improvement in the language of the form would have changed the result because Mrs. Braza did not read it.

Unfortunately, what happened to Mrs. Braza is not uncommon.  All too often, people sign documents without reading them because someone they trust asks or tells them to.  Sometimes people sign documents without reading them because they are simply too lazy or careless.  Everyone should read every document before signing it period.  Had Mrs. Braza done this, she might be enjoying lifetime pension payments and health insurance too. ¡NO SE DEJE! ®


Jess J. Araujo, Esq.

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