Changes in life sometimes affect life insurance beneficiaries… for good or worse.
Now, the story:
Life Insurance Beneficiaries
Estate of Post – California Court of Appeals, First District
The decedent Jerome Post, had purchased a life insurance policy during his lifetime and had named his then-wife Angela, as the primary beneficiary. He named his two sons from a prior marriage as the “contingent” beneficiaries. Jerome and Angela later divorced.
Jerome then executed a new will, strongly expressing his desire that his former wife receive nothing from him after death, including by beneficiary designation. However, he had not changed the beneficiary designation of the life insurance he had purchased during their marriage.
At his death, his sons sought an order in the probate court to designate them, rather than their step-mother, as rightful beneficiaries of Jerome’s life insurance policy. The trail court found in favor of the sons, and issued an order naming them as the proper beneficiaries of the life insurance proceeds.
The Court of Appeals REVERSED. The court stated that a probate court has no jurisdiction over life insurance policies where the decedent’s estate has no interest in the proceeds. A beneficiary under an insurance policy takes the proceeds under an insurance contract, and not pursuant to the succession laws of the state. The Appeals Court voided the trial court’s order.
Moral of the story? Beneficiary designations trump your written estate plan. ALWAYS, review the beneficiary designations of your life insurance policies, annuities, IRAs, 401(k)s, retirement plans, etc. as part of a comprehensive estate planning process.