Can My Ex-Spouse Still Collect on My Life Insurance Policy After We Divorce?
Married persons often name their spouse as the designated beneficiary of their life insurance policy. So what happens to this designation if a couple divorces? The simple answer is that under Florida law, a final order of divorce voids any such beneficiary designation. Unless the policyholder files a new beneficiary designation after the divorce, the insurance company is supposed to act as if the ex-spouse had predeceased the policyholder.
Judge Allows Lawsuit to Proceed Against Insurer Over Payment to Wrong Beneficiary
To avoid any confusion, Florida divorce settlements often make explicit provisions regarding the change in life insurance beneficiary designations. But what happens if the insurance company never receives notice of the divorce? If the insurer later pays out a policy to an ex-spouse, can the rightful beneficiary take any legal action?
A federal judge in Fort Myers, Florida, recently confronted this problem. The case before the court, Murray v. Aetna Life Insurance Company, involved a $292,000 life insurance policy issued to a former hospital worker (the decedent) through his employer. At the time the policy was issued, the decedent was married to his first wife.
The couple divorced in 2005. Their final divorce settlement stated the ex-wife disclaimed any interest in the decedent’s life insurance policies. About a year later, the decedent married his second wife. In 2007, the decedent purportedly signed a handwritten note instructing the insurance company to change the beneficiary designation on his employer-issued life insurance to his new wife.
The decedent’s second wife said he sent this note to his employer’s human resources department. And in 2016, the decedent completed a formal change of beneficiary form, which again he filed with HR.
The decedent passed away in 2018. Aetna, the company that held the life insurance policy, paid the benefits to the decedent’s ex-wife, as it claimed it never received either the decedent’s 2007 note or his 2016 change of beneficiary form. The second wife then tried to contact Aetna and claim the benefits for herself, but the insurer denied her claim.
The second wife then sued Aetna, which is how the matter ended up before the federal court. The case itself remains pending. On July 22, U.S. District Judge Sheri Polster Chapell issued a preliminary order denying both sides’ respective motions for summary judgment.
Aetna’s motion for summary judgment was based on a provision of Florida law that basically holds an insurance company blameless when it pays out a life insurance policy to a previously named beneficiary, provided it “did not receive written notice that another person claims to be entitled to the payment.” Judge Polster noted there was a factual dispute as to whether Aetna actually received notice, so the matter could proceed to trial.
In her own summary judgment motion, the second wife pointed to the fact that Florida law automatically voids upon divorce any prior designation of an ex-spouse as beneficiary. Judge Polster noted there was a “dearth of caselaw” analysing the interaction between this statute and the statute allowing insurers to escape liability for paying the wrong beneficiary. For that reason, she also declined to grant the second wife’s motion for summary judgment.
Get Advice from a Florida Divorce Attorney Today
There is an obvious lesson here: Make sure you promptly update all of your beneficiary designations following a divorce. Do not assume that everything will be taken care of automatically. If you need specific legal advice or assistance from an experienced Boca Raton divorce lawyer, contact WiseLieberman, PLLC, at 561-488-7788 today to schedule a confidential consultation.