How to Contest a Life Insurance Beneficiary

It’s more difficult to contest a life insurance beneficiary than a will, because life insurance doesn’t go through probate. However, if you can show that the deceased neglected to update the policy after a major life change, such as remarriage or adoption, or that the deceased had been subjected to undue pressure during a final illness, a probate court may order that the insurance be paid to another beneficiary.

Evaluating Your Options:

Consider contacting an attorney. Interpleader actions, such as this, are very detailed and far reaching, encompassing multiple types of law. So many different things are likely to impact your case, and judges have great latitude for discretion. If you can afford a local attorney who knows the types of things your judge favours and disfavors, it would be best to hire one. See How to Find a Good Attorney. If you cannot afford a full-service attorney, some attorneys provide “unbundled services”. Unbundled services include:

  • Preparing documents
  • Giving you legal advice only
  • Teaching you the law as it applies to your case
  • Coaching you through the legal process

Recognize the time sensitivity of the action. Ideally, you will want to challenge the beneficiary designation prior to the insurance company paying out the claim. The insurance company cannot decide who to pay the claim to, but if there is a formal dispute as to the beneficiary, they will pay the policy out to a trust held by the courts until the dispute is settled. It will likely be much more difficult to collect insurance proceeds from an improperly named beneficiary who has already been paid.

  • If the insurance company pays to the named beneficiary, you will need to file a suit against that individual.
  • If the individual has already spent the proceeds of the policy, you may have difficulty collecting.
  • If the individual has no assets, you may not be able to collect at all.
Check your state laws. In some states, laws provide that insurance proceeds must go to particular people. For instance many states require a spouse be designated as a beneficiary unless the spouse consents in writing to a different beneficiary designation. You can usually find a link to your state laws on the websites of the governor, the highest court, and/or the legislature. Review the statutes regarding insurance and probate.
Look for court orders. In many divorce and child custody situations, courts order support-paying persons to name recipient persons as beneficiaries to life insurance policies to ensure those support payments continue in case of the payor’s death. These commonly include: 

  • Child support payments are guaranteed by a life insurance policy naming either the person with custody or a trust for the child as the beneficiary.
  • Spousal support payments are guaranteed by a life insurance policy naming the former spouse as the beneficiary.
  • Instalment payments involving assets awarded in property settlements may be guaranteed by a life insurance policy payable to the spouse who was awarded the clear asset.

Look for ambiguities. Insurance companies are required to pay to named beneficiaries, but if that beneficiary is not clear, they cannot pay until they learn who is meant by that designation. Some examples are:

  • Beneficiary is designated as “spouse”, but deceased is no longer married.
  • Beneficiary is designated as “child”, but there is now more than one child.
  • Beneficiary is designated by name to former spouse, but state law requires designation of current spouse.

Look for evidence of fraud or undue influence. In some cases, courts will set aside beneficiary designations if they were made by virtue of fraud, undue influence, or mental incompetency. These are difficult, but not impossible, to prove.

  • Fraud can be when a person is told they are signing something other than what they are actually signing or when a person relies on untrue information to persuade them to sign the beneficiary designation.
  • Undue influence is when someone induces the insured to sign the beneficiary designation under excessive threats, flatter or other coercive behaviors. If a beneficiary is acting as a caregiver, power-of-attorney, or other position of trust, undue influence is presumed, but can be rebutted.
  • Mental incompetence is usually defined as the inability to reasonably understand the nature of the document being signed. This definition will vary between states. A person with dementia or other illnesses may be presumed as incompetent, but it is deemed as of the time the document was signed.

Gathering Evidence:

Contact the clerk of courts. To obtain court documents, such as child support orders with life insurance provisions, contact the clerk of the court that issued the order. Be prepared to provide the following information and pay a fee for certified copies:

  • The full names of the parties to the case, such as the parents of the child.
  • The estimated date of the order.
  • The case number, names of attorneys, names of judges or other identifying information if the names are common in that area.

Contact the Department of Vital Statistics. If you need birth certificates or marriage licenses, contact the Department of Vital Statistics or similar agency in the state where the event occurred. You may need to provide proof of a legal right to obtain the document and pay a fee. This proof may include:

  • Copy of drivers license.
  • Copy of passport.
  • Copy of court order allowing you to obtain access to the document.

Talk to potential witnesses. Especially for claims of fraud, mental incompetence, or undue influence, witnesses will be necessary. You will need to be able to prove specific instances of conduct showing these behaviors. When talking with potential witnesses:

  • Ask them to be specific in particular instances where certain behaviors occurred (such as approximately how many times Aunt Sally forgot where she lived or how the current beneficiary refused to allow Aunt Sally to spend time with her previously beloved niece or nephew).
  • Ask them to write a statement of things they observed about the situation.
  • Prepare them to potentially testify on your behalf.

Challenging the Policy:

Notify the life insurance company. Unless the insurance company is formally informed in writing of a challenge to the beneficiary, they must pay to the named beneficiary. Once the beneficiary is officially challenged, the insurance company will file what is called an interpleader action with the courts. With this filing:

  • The insurance company will deposit the proceeds of the policy with the court.
  • The insurance company will name and serve all parties believed to claim some legal right to the proceeds.
  • The insurance company will then withdraw from the case, letting the court decide who gets the proceeds.
Respond to the interpleader action. When you receive notice of the interpleader action, you must take certain actions within a specified period of time. Consider hiring an attorney for these and further legal actions.

  • You must file your answer with the court and serve it on the other claimants within the period of time specified on the summons or citation you received, usually 21 to 45 days or receiving the petition and summons or citation.
  • Your answer must state the all of the reasons you believe you are entitled to the proceeds.
  • Your answer must be signed by you or your attorney.

Consider settling. Most courts will require at least one attempt at mediation or settlement conference. Because the cost of litigating these actions is so high, some cases settle prior to going to trial. Consider whether it is cost-effective to pursue through trial based on the amount of the insurance proceeds. If it is a small policy, the cost of pursuing the case to trial could be more than you stand to gain from the insurance policy.

  • Mediation is when a neutral third party attempts to help the claimants compromise into a settlement.
  • Settlement conference is when the claimants and their attorneys attempt to compromise into a settlement without the assistance of the neutral third party.

Article Source:

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *