Supreme Court Favors Ex-Wife Over Widow In Battle For Life Insurance Proceeds

Supreme Court Favors Ex-Wife Over Widow In Battle For Life Insurance Proceeds

In the event of a divorce, it is important to remember about changing the beneficiaries nominated on any life insurance policies and pensions (both employer and personal). Failing to do so could mean that, in the event of death, your assets would not be distributed in accordance with your wishes.

When Warren Hillman died in 2008 at the age of 66, his assets included a life insurance policy worth $124,558.03. The U.S. Supreme Court found that his ex-wife, who Hillman divorced 10 years before he died, was entitled to every penny of it.

All this because Hillman made a basic, and unfortunately all too common, estate-planning mistake: when he divorced he did not change the beneficiary designation for a life insurance policy. 

A beneficiary designation is a document given to an insurance company or financial institution, indicating who should inherit certain assets that do not pass under a will or trust.

Forgetting to coordinate these non-probate assets, as they are called, with the rest of your estate plan can completely thwart your objectives, as it may have done for Hillman.

Perhaps he forgot about the life insurance policy. In any event, he didn’t change the beneficiary either when he got divorced, or after his subsequent marriage, or after being diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia from which he ultimately died.

Some states have laws protecting a subsequent spouse from such oversights. Washington state does not.

Words to the wise: 

keep those beneficiary forms up to date. To change a beneficiary — for example, if you get married or divorced or your spouse dies — make sure to file an amended form. 

Give us a call today, at 206-926-9848, if you would like some guidance. We will be able to instruct you on changing these designations and assist you in creating a customized estate plan that will ensure you will not make the same mistake as Warren Hillman. 

STAY UP TO DATE

Subscribe to our newsletters

 
Subscribe to one or more of our newsletters, delivering meaningful insight on topics that matter to you and your family.
ebl home subscribe image

FURTHER READING

Latest Blog Posts

A Seattle estate planning attorney can help you draft a mental health advance care directive as part of your estate plan.

A Seattle family law attorney can help if you find you are in a situation where your ex is abusing your pet.

If you are an unmarried couple, a Seattle family law attorney can help you protect your partner through the use of wills and trusts.

A Seattle family law attorney can guide you with next steps should you discover that your spouse has been unfaithful.

An estate planning attorney can help you draft a will or designate some of your property as non-probate assets by creating various trusts.

Not sweating the small stuff is even more important during separation than it is at other times to have an amicable divorce.

Many people delay estate planning because facing sickness and death can be uncomfortable. However, preparation is necessary to have your wishes honored as you intend. With this in mind, consider the following suggestions to stay focused on these estate planning goals.

The thought of how to approach your partner for a divorce can be stressful, even if you believe they will take the news "well.” The upside is there are ways to communicate your intentions that can minimize the uncomfortable feelings you are experiencing while helping to make the conversation go more smoothly.

Probate in Washington state is relatively straightforward, especially with the guidance of a Seattle estate planning attorney at your side. Here is what you need to know.

Unsure where to begin gathering the foundation you need to go through the divorce process with confidence and well-prepared? Consider the following 10 tips to prepare for divorce.