Term life spousal signature line

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 10:44 am   Post subject: Term life spousal signature line  

I live in CA. My spouse passed away recently and I found out that the term life insurance policy beneficiary had been changed. It was obtained while we were married and always paid with community money. I did not sign the spousal signature line for community property states. Am I still entitled to 1/2 of the proceeds? Also, my spouse became disabled and was on disability before he passed away. Thanks.

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PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 7:35 pm   Post subject:   

Quote:
I did not sign the spousal signature line for community property states.
There is no such thing. If the insurance was provided by an employer governed under ERISA, then federal law applies and the beneficiary is whomever was last designated by your wife or as according to the plan Document. Disability has nothing to do with the situation.



Regardless of how premiums were paid, by whom, or with what money, community property law in CA does not require that a spouse be named as a life insurance beneficiary. At most, you might have a claim for 1/2 of the premiums that were paid with community property dollars, and even that is not certain.



Unless there was some criminal act or threat of force or violence that caused the beneficiary change, you are out of luck on this one according to the very limited information posted.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 10, 2014 11:38 pm   Post subject:   

I looked at the change of beneficiary form, and there is a line for spousal signature if you reside in a community property state. So I looked up a lot of other insurance providers, and all of their change forms also have this line for signature. This term life insurance is not thru work, but thru a private company. So now I am even more confused.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 1:43 am   Post subject:   

Quote:
This term life insurance is not thru work, but thru a private company.
I have no doubt that you found that line on the beneficiary change form. But, like signs in shopping center parking lots that say, "Park at Your Own Risk, we don't assume liability for damage or lost or stolen items," it's completely meaningless. (It's probably there to guilt a person into naming their spouse.)



But despite what the forms say -- if you look more closely it probably says something like "recommended" -- there is no legal requirement for a spouse in a community property state to consent to not being named the beneficiary. The law permits the policyowner to freely name anyone or any thing the beneficiary, and a spouse cannot contest that. A beneficiary change form will be accepted without the spouse's signature. The insurance company doesn't even need to know if an insured is married or not.



Unless you can prove some form of coercion or other criminal act caused the change of beneficiary, your only possible recourse is to sue the beneficiary for the value of half of the premiums paid -- as your community property interest spent without your permission. There is case law to support that, but none to support overturning the change of beneficiary in a non-ERISA policy.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 4:57 pm   Post subject:   

Hey Max..I had a similar situation earlier in the year and did hire a lawyer. I have read your posts to the questions about the spousal signature line on life insurance policies. You are right that the life insurance company does not even know if you are married or not, but that is not the point. They are not responsible if one provides incorrect information. And they will accept a change without spousal signature..They are basically just covering their butts by requesting spousal signature so they can not be sued when they make the payout. BUT a spouse does have recourse if the policy was obtained while married and paid with community funds.. In California, a life insurance policy is considered community property and spouse can only gift one’s 1/2 share to someone other then a spouse. There are many many court cases that have ruled that the surviving spouse has rights to 1/2 a policy in which they were not named. IF the spouse has signed the spousal signature line then they have legally agreed to forfeit this right. It does also make a difference if the insured is on disability in that the insured might be considered UNINSURABLE during the life of a term life insurance policy, and therefor unable to obtain another policy of equal value. The fact that the payments on the policy were paid with community funds also makes a difference. If the last premium paid was with community property funds, then the policy is deemed a community property asset. A surviving spouse does have rights to proceeds from a term life insurance policy, other then just reimbursement for 1/2 of policy pymts made during their marriage.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:27 pm   Post subject:   

When a life insurance beneficiary who is not the spouse is discovered after the death of the insured, the only recoverable portion of the "asset" is 1/2 of the premiums paid (or the policy cash value if higher, which is only going to be true in some form of universal or variable life policy, never term, and in whole life policies in which any dividends have been used to purchase paid up additions which were not previously surrendered).



As Stanford Law School teaches the concept to its students:



Quote:
But, if non-gifting spouse does not discover the gift until after the death of the gifting spouse, the non-gifter may set aside the gift only as to her 1/2 CP, not the entirety. Recovery will be from either the donee or the gifting-spouse's estate.




As I said previously, the surviving spouse can sue the beneficiary for half of the premiums paid for the policy, not half of the death benefit.



The value of the community property is the premiums paid or the cash value, not the death benefit. Remember, the insured cannot both die and collect the death benefit.



If you understand the Medicaid Asset Spend Down test, you might understand the concept better, too. As an asset, life insurance CASH VALUE must be reduced to no more than $1500 -- regardless of the death benefit amount. That much larger number is not an asset.



And you won't find anything in the Insurance Code, Family Code, or Probate Code that requires a husband to name his wife as a life insurance beneficiary, or vice versa.



Situations like this are not uncommon, and they create a lot of anguish in the aftermath of someone's death. It says something about the quality of the marriage. Additionally, insurance acquired prior to a marriage is the separate property of the acquirer, even when paid with new community property funds. The surviving spouse can still claim one-half of the premiums paid after the marriage occurred, but not half of the death benefit.



As far as the insurance company's role in all this . . . they are not in the business of giving legal advice, and we, as agents, are similarly prohibited from doing so. Whatever gets put down on paper (outside of ERISA matters), is all the insurance company cares to know.


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 11, 2014 7:42 pm   Post subject:   

Quote:
There are many many court cases that have ruled that the surviving spouse has rights to 1/2 a policy in which they were not named.
Please cite a few.


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 12, 2014 6:57 am   Post subject:   

Here are some cases where the term life policy was viewed as a community asset and the surviving spouse was not named on the term life policy yet received 1/2 policy.. RE MARRIAGE OF SPENGLER, RE MARRIAGE OFGONZALEZ, LOGAN, WISSNER V. WISSNER, GRIMM V. GRIMM, BURWELL V. BURWELL. There are more but a lot of legal jumbo in them with other legal issues. One of the repeated important issues is if the insured becomes uninsurable during the life of the policy.. If that happens, then that even trumps the ownership caused by how the last term life pymt was made. I guess the point that I was trying to make is a surviving spouse DOES have rights to more then just reimbursement of pymts made on a policy.. In a community property state, life insurance is considered an asset. If it were pointless to have the SPOUSAL SIGNATURE line on change of beneficiary forms, if you live in community property states, then the forms would not have added that. It is there for a reason. Not trying to have an argument here, but just trying to let the person asking the question know that he or she does have more rights then just reimbursement for 1/2 of policy pymts.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 12, 2014 3:31 pm   Post subject:   

In the future, please provide proper case citations so I don't have to waste my time looking for these cases.



Quote:
There are more but a lot of legal jumbo in them with other legal issues.
Those other "legal issues' may be far more important. To wit . . .



SPENGLER is an ERISA matter and as such is not applicable to this situation.



GONZALES does not involve anyone's death, and is merely a division of assets matter in a divorce. It also is not applicable to this situation.



WISSNER involves National Service Life Insurance -- the WWII predecessor to Servicemembers Group Life. Although the California courts ruled the proceeds community property, the Federal courts overturned those decisions as preempted under federal law. Not applicable.



GRIMM involves a divorce that granted the life insurance as the husband's sole property. He later died without changing the beneficiary, which was his former wife. Wife received the proceeds in interpleader and the estate appealed. The court held that the estate had no share in the proceeds, that the named beneficiary was to receive the proceeds as the lower court decided. Not applicable.



BURWELL has not been decided. The former wife was awarded 1/2 of the policy proceeds by the trial court, but the Court of Appeals has vacated the decision and remanded the case. How does this apply?


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 12, 2014 8:21 pm   Post subject:   

Again, I don't intend this to be an argument.. In all of these cases, the basis was that the life insurance policies were deemed to be community property. Without any other legal arguments, the basis for spousal rights to 1/2 a term life insurance is based on how the last premium was paid. If paid with community funds, then surviving spouse has 1/2 rights to policy beneifts. as a spouse can not will or gift more then their 1/2 share of any community property. IF the insured becomes uninsurable during the policy term, then the last premium pymt is a mute subject and again the surviving spouse has rights to 1/2 the policy proceeds.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 12, 2014 11:33 pm   Post subject:   

FIne.



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