What to do if my father passed away a few months ago and his life insurance beneficiary was his 5th ex-wife and not 1 of his 5 children?

She married for legal citizenship. They divorced and is now living out of the country and not sure of her current status. Does she have any rights to the money? He had no Will and no assets.

Asked on September 18, 2012 under Estate Planning, California

Answers:

Catherine Blackburn / Blackburn Law Firm

Answered 8 years ago | Contributor

Unfortunately, you have a problem.  In general, insurance is a contract and is governed by contract laws.  Naming a beneficiary is similar to preparing a will, and some states, Florida is one of them, apply some of the laws governing wills to naming a life insurance beneficiary.

A contract can be invalidated if it was procured by fraud, duress, or, in Florida, undue influence.  It is invalid if the party (your father) lacked capacity to enter into a contract.  Your question does not show fraud, duress, undue influence, or lack of capacity, but one of them might exist.

I suggest that the children speak with an insurance lawyer (first party insurance claims) or a probate litigation attorney about this.  Your state may provide some ways to dispute this beneficiary.  Of course, if you bring a challenge, the ex-wife will have to come to the States and defend it or she will lose by default.

If the ex-wife loses her claim to the life insurance proceeds, they would likely be paid to your father's estate.  Once in the estate, they would be distributed according to your state's statute of descent and distribution (i.e., the law that says who inherits if a person has no will).  That statute likely says the 5 children will inherit equal shares.

Good luck.


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