What to do if my husband passed away and forgot to change his life insurance to me and left his ex-wife on?

Asked on September 9, 2011 under Insurance Law, Arizona


M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

As a general rule, life insurance benefits are paid to the named beneficiary regardless of their status as a spouse or ex-spouse. Divorce typically has no effect on this designation of beneficiary. In other words, divorce does not automatically remove the ex-spouse as the beneficiary. The fact is that many people name their spouse as their life insurance beneficiary and subsequently fail to update their policy if the marriage ends. Bottom line, in most jurisdictions, the owner of a policy must change the beneficiary of their policy if they do not want their ex-spouse to receive the policy’s benefits.

However, there are instances where an ex-spouse is not eligible to collect life insurance proceeds even if he as a named beneficiary. For example, if the insurance policy may contain a provision that excludes a beneficiary from receiving benefits whose spousal status does not exist at the time of the insured’s death. Also, the divorce decree may provide that the ex-spouse is no longer eligible to receive life insurance proceeds. Additionally, some states have laws that revoke a person’s beneficiary rights upon divorce.

At this point you need to consult with an attorney in your area and have them specifically explain AZ's position on an revoking an ex-spouse's right to collect; as well as, checking the original divorce decree to see if the issue was addressed and checking the language in the policy itself.

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