Ex-Wife Not Entitled to Life Insurance Proceeds of Deceased Former Husband

estate lawyer in New YorkIn a case in Erie County, New York, before Surrogate Barbara Howe, an estate sought to have the decedent’s ex-wife turn over the life insurance proceeds to the estate which she had received as a result of decedent’s death. In this case, the decedent left his entire estate to one of his sisters. She brought an application to the Surrogate’s Court to force the ex-wife, to turn over to the estate all of the funds she received as the beneficiary of the decedent’s life insurance policies. The ex-wife, through her attorneys, claimed she was entitled to the benefits as the decedent made an affirmative choice not to remove her as the beneficiary.

The decedent’s sister asserted that the ex-wife’s legal basis to receive the life insurance proceeds was terminated upon entry of a judgement of divorce in the County Clerk’s office. The court referred to Section 5-1.4 of the Estate, Powers and Trusts Law and the legislative history with regard to the enactment of this section of the EPTL. Surrogate Barbara Howe found that for an ex-wife to inherit she must prove the decedent took affirmative action after the divorce to ensure the ex-spouse would retain her status as the beneficiary on the pre-divorce life insurance policy. In this case, the decedent did not do so. Therefore the pre-divorce beneficiary designation was ruled a nullity. Judge Howe in her decision went on to state the ex-wife did not meet the standard under EPTL 5-1.4 with regard to the ex-spouse taking action after the divorce to reinstate her as the beneficiary. Judge Howe found the ex-wife had been bought out of the life insurance policy during the divorce case and she no longer had any marital interest in the life insurance policy. The policy was decedent’s separate property. Surrogate Howe ordered the ex-wife to repay the estate the full amount of the life insurance proceeds she had received.


To be safe, if you are getting divorced, remove your ex-spouse as beneficiary on all financial documents, deeds, bank accounts, securities accounts and all other financial instruments of every type and nature.estate planning attorney on Long Island

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