Who has the right to life insurance proceeds – the named beneficiary or the wife?

UPDATED: Jan 2, 2011

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Who has the right to life insurance proceeds – the named beneficiary or the wife?

My husband passed away and on his life insurance his sister was made beneficiary. We had planned on changing it but that didn’t happen. I do have a paper stating that he would like to have it changed to his wife, which was signed by us both and a witness.

Asked on January 2, 2011 under Insurance Law, California


M.T.G., Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 12 years ago | Contributor

I am so sorry for your loss. The general rule is that the insurance company is obligated to pay the proceeds of the insurance policy to the named beneficiary (which is the one listed on the designation of beneficiary form).  Also generally speaking you have to use the form fromthe life insurance company.  The paper that you have is not a valid Will because I am sure that it does not conform to the requirements of a Will.  But I wonder if it can be used to show intent and if there may be a way to use it any other way or claim that it is a new designation and that it supersedes the old.  But then you will have to make what is known as an adverse claim against the proceeds of the policy.  You have to write to the insurance company and let them know that you are making a claim to the benefits of the policy as against your sister in law and that you demand that they interplead the find in to court until such time as the matter is ironed out.  Good luck.

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