Can an ex-wife still be a beneficiary of a life insurance policy?

UPDATED: Aug 24, 2011

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Can an ex-wife still be a beneficiary of a life insurance policy?

My husband died 2 months ago. I was the beneficiary on his Will. Several years ago we discussed insurance policies. He told me that he had put my name as beneficiary on all of his insurance policies except one. He was leaving his ex-wife that one, so she would have something when he died. He was divorced from her 28 years ago. I have been his wife for 25 years. Going through the papers, I found 3 old policies – 1 as far back as 1957, 1 from 1966 and not sure of the date of the other. She was named as beneficiary in all of those. I’m sure he didn’t even realize those were in effect anymore.

Asked on August 24, 2011 Pennsylvania


SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

Yes, an ex-wife can still be a beneficiary--essentially a person may name *anyone* as a beneficiary on a life insurance policy, regardless of relationship or even whether it's a "person" or not (e.g. businesses, charities, non-governmental organizations, etc. can all be beneficiaries).

The only hitch is that she would have to be named by name. If she were named as "wife," then the policy would not go to her, as she was *not* his wife at the time your husband passed away. Rather, it would have gone to you, as his wife. Assuming she was correctly identified, however, she will be the beneficiary of the policies; that your husband did not even remember them would not affect it, since a policy must be affirmatively changed or canceled (assuming it was properly paid up).

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The Answer(s) provided above are for general information only. The attorney providing the answer was not serving as the attorney for the person submitting the question or in any attorney-client relationship with such person. Laws may vary from state to state, and sometimes change. Tiny variations in the facts, or a fact not set forth in a question, often can change a legal outcome or an attorney's conclusion. Although has verified the attorney was admitted to practice law in at least one jurisdiction, he or she may not be authorized to practice law in the jurisdiction referred to in the question, nor is he or she necessarily experienced in the area of the law involved. Unlike the information in the Answer(s) above, upon which you should NOT rely, for personal advice you can rely upon we suggest you retain an attorney to represent you.

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