Lawyers Hoping Book Helps Pensioners

LORAIN, Ohio (AP) - Two lawyers are hoping to join the publishing phenomenon that has given consumers everything from "Bartending for Dummies" to "Boston Terriers for Dummies" with a new book that provides a guide to understanding pensions.

The book, titled "Protecting Pensions for Dummies," goes on sale Monday. It was written by Robert Gary and Jori Bloom Naegele, both local attorneys who specialize in pension plans. During decades in practice, they have recovered more than $100 million for pensioners, they said.

The book explains how pensions work and resources available to help when things go wrong, the authors said.

"You wouldn't go to Las Vegas, put your money down on the blackjack table and not know if you won or lost and depend on the house to tell you. But that's exactly what people do with their pensions," Gary said.

The pair's law firm has handled several high-profile cases, including a 2001 settlement with TRW Inc. in Cleveland that paid $50 million to more than 5,000 class-action plaintiffs in a dispuite over how their pensions were calculated.

From their practice, "What we've learned from all this is pensioners have no idea what the amount (they should receive) is," Gary said. "They don't know what their rights are."

The topic of pensions is particularly well suited to the simple, explanatory language the "for Dummies" series emphasizes, the authors said. What one is entitled to under a pension depends on many factors - the plan, legal precedents set in other cases, federal Department of Labor and Treasury Department regulations as well as other federal laws, including the Pension Protection Act of 2006, which the book discusses.

It includes chapters on navigating the details of pensions, tax-qualified plans, 401(k) plans, pension eligibility, and how to deal with events that could impact a pension, such as divorce.

It also has a glossary of pension-related terms, everything from accrued benefit to years of service.

The authors joke that the book might put them out of business, but they caution that it's not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. Indeed, it includes a chapter on when and how to hire a pension attorney.

The point is to educate pensioners about what they are entitled to, they said.

"People should not take for granted that what their employer says they'll get is what they'll be getting," Naegele said. "People need to look out for themselves and not presume the company is looking out for them."

Naegele suggested that people can get to know their pensions better buy starting with the employers' information books and determine at what point they can begin collecting benefits. People also should find out if the company gets new ownership or what happens if they get fired, she said.

"People need to know so they don't get shafted down the road," Naegele said.