Life Insurance Beneficiary Disputes and Interpleader
Life is complicated and, when it comes to death, life often gets even more complicated. For millions of Americans, life insurance is a way to take care of family or loved ones when they are no longer among us. It’s a comforting thought for the person who took out the policy to know that there will not be a serious financial burden related to their departure and that the family will not have to worry. However, life is rarely as black and white as it seems and, sometimes, beneficiary disputes draw into question who should get some or all of the money that your policy allocates to them. The insurance company, being a neutral third party, will sometimes let the courts decide, an action known as interpleader. Below, we’ll discuss what all these terms mean to you and how our firm can help you get the life insurance interpleader help you need.
What is a life insurance policy and why do people get one?
A life insurance policy is designed to benefit a person or people upon the death of someone else. There is no one way for a person to structure a life insurance policy and the number of beneficiaries can range from one to multiple. For example, Bob may have a life insurance policy through his company for $5 million. He has listed his wife as the beneficiary. If Bob passes away while the policy is in effect, his wife will receive the $5 million. However, some people list multiple beneficiaries. Instead of just his wife, Bob may have also listed his brother, his adult children, and his favorite charity as a beneficiary. In that case, the proceeds with the policy will be distributed according to the amounts or percentages Bob has established for each. No matter what you wish to do with your life insurance policy, our attorneys can help you properly structure it so your heirs aren’t subject to a beneficiary dispute.
What can cause a beneficiary dispute?
There are many reasons for a beneficiary dispute, some legitimate and some less than compelling. However, if you are involved in a beneficiary dispute, there are serious ramifications for you and your family. Our attorneys have worked on beneficiary dispute issues for years and can represent you zealously to help protect your legal rights. Some examples of reasons for beneficiary disputes include:
- Abrupt beneficiary designation change, such as when the policy holder changes beneficiary terms right before death;
- No listed beneficiary;
- Suspicion of the beneficiary having played a role in the death of the policyholder;
- Percentages allotted to beneficiaries not equaling 100%; and
- Other disputes regarding the laws governing distribution or other pre-existing contracts or court orders impacting the life insurance policy.
What happens when there is a dispute among beneficiaries?
If a dispute among beneficiaries occurs, it is always in the best interest of the beneficiaries and their respective life insurance beneficiary dispute attorneys to try and resolve the situation amicably. This could include stipulating to lesser percentages or amounts to ensure everyone gets some of the payout, one party relinquishing their rights, or a combination of legal decisions made by the beneficiaries. However, if a dispute has no natural out of court resolution, then both or multiple sides will likely try and sway the insurance company Working with our experienced attorneys, you can work to present your case to the insurance company, so they will be more likely to make a determination in your favor and you won’t have to go to court to get your fair share of the life insurance policy payout. Our life insurance attorneys are happy to litigate any interpleader if a resolution can't be worked out. No firm has won more life insurance interpleader actions as ours.
What is an interpleader?
When all other options have been exhausted and the insurance company is unwilling or unable to award a life insurance payout to a beneficiary or group of beneficiaries, they will often file what is called interpleader with the court. This allows the insurance company to deposit the funds from the life insurance payout into an account with the court while the court either decides your case through the normal litigation process or you come to a settlement. Our interpleader attorneys can work to gather the evidence you need to help ensure the strongest and most zealous argument for the legal and factual sufficiency of your case.
What happens if I am the subject of an interpleader action?
Once an interpleader has been filed, you need to quickly contact our firm’s life insurance attorneys who can get to work representing you. They will quickly respond to any and all allegations and negative inferences against you, so the court is not prejudiced about what the other side may be saying. Some may become paralyzed with fear and not acting, believing that it will go away or that the judge will see the sufficiency of their case without the need for a written response or to appear in court. This is incorrect as not contesting allegations that are harmful to you could result in you losing any chance you have at your fair share of the proceeds due to you from a life insurance policy. Our attorneys will answer all your questions. You may have questions about: a forged life insurance beneficiary change; whether a life insurance beneficiary can be changed after death; how you contest a life insurance beneficiary; what happens when life insurance is paid to the wrong person. More questions include whether a will can change a life insurance beneficiary; whether a spouse can override a beneficiary; divorce decree vs life insurance beneficiary; last-minute beneficiary changes; sharing life insurance proceeds with siblings; whether proceeds can be taken by creditors. What happens to life insurance with no beneficiary; how long a beneficiary has to claim a life insurance policy; and more. Our highly experience life insurance beneficiary dispute lawyers will answer all your questions when you call us for a free consultation.
What are some common interpleader cases?
There are common interpleader cases that our firm’s attorneys, with years of experience, can help you navigate. From the inability to change a beneficiary to reduced or diminished capacity to divorce, we’ve seen much of what someone contesting your ability to collect on a life insurance policy can allege. While there are still novel interpleader cases that can occur, and will, our firm is experienced in handling the vast majority of scenarios that can arise when beneficiaries contest others’ ability to obtain proceeds from a life insurance policy.
Some recent interpleader cases resolved this year include: Mutual of Omaha; New York Life; Transamerica; Northwestern Mutual; Prudential; State Farm; Globe; AIG; Protective; MassMutual; Lincoln Financial; and Guardian Life.
What should I do if I believe I am about to become involved in an interpleader action?
If you are or believe you are about to become involved in an interpleader action as the result of a disagreement between beneficiaries regarding the proceeds of a life insurance policy, you should call our firm immediately. A free consultation with one of our experienced life insurance beneficiary dispute lawyers will help ensure you have the information you need to preserve your rights. Call our office today.
Can you tell me more about Life Insurance Beneficiary Disputes and Interpleaders?
A life insurance policy is a smart way to provide for your family after you’re gone. The money from a life insurance policy can be used to make up for a breadwinner’s income if he or she dies unexpectedly or to fund a child’s college education.
Typically, the owner of a life insurance policy will designate who should receive the pay-out or proceeds when he or she dies (also known as the life insurance “benefit”). Usually, this beneficiary designation is straightforward and clear cut. A policyholder will designate that his son is to receive 100% of the life insurance policy benefit, or two children each will receive 50% of the proceeds.
However, there are times when more than one person or entity believes they have a right to the insurance policy benefit. Rather than try to figure it out on its own, the insurance company will ask the courts to do this in what is known as an interpleader action.
The life insurance company doesn’t want to defend a lawsuit for paying the wrong beneficiary, so it brings an interpleader action against the disputing parties who claim the life insurance benefits.
An interpleader action allows the life insurance company to have a judge determine which beneficiary should be paid. When an interpleader lawsuit is commenced by the insurance company, the beneficiary must present his or her case, even if they’re confident they’re the one who should be rightfully paid.
When the court rules on the case, the money is distributed according to that decision. The interpleader action decides with finality who is to receive the life insurance policy proceeds.
What are Examples of Life Insurance Beneficiary Disputes?
An interpleader action can come about in several different situations. Here are some of the most common scenarios:
- No beneficiary named. The insured failed to designate any beneficiary on the life insurance policy;
- 100% of the proceeds to be given to more than one beneficiary. The insured directed that all of the proceeds be given to more than one person in his or her life insurance policy’s beneficiary designation;
- State law. Some states, including Pennsylvania, have what are called revocation-on-divorce statues that automatically remove an ex-spouse as a beneficiary upon divorce; even so, the ex-spouse may believe they have a right to the insurance policy proceeds.
- Community property state. In a community property state, the spouse may have a right to some of the life insurance proceeds.
- Both the spouse and ex-spouse claim benefits. The insured’s surviving spouse and ex-spouse both claim that they have the right to the deceased’s life insurance proceeds; in this case, perhaps the insured failed to update his or her beneficiary designation on the policy after divorcing and re-marrying;
- Children from first and second marriages claim benefits. The insured had children from two different marriages that both ended in divorce, and he or she was required by the court to maintain the same policy in lieu of or as part of the child support obligations in both divorce settlements; this creates a disagreement between the children from the first marriage and the children from the second marriage as to which ones are entitled to the insurance benefit;
- Beneficiary update ineffective. The insured’s tried to update the beneficiary but was unsuccessful; this can happen when the insured fills out the change of beneficiary form but dies before the insurance company receives the updated designation and makes the change;
- Competency to change beneficiary. The decedent updated the beneficiary for the policy, but there’s a question as to whether he or she had the mental capacity to make the change;
- Fraudulent update. The update to the beneficiary designation looks to be the result of fraud, duress, or undue influence; or
- No record of change of beneficiary. The insured updated the beneficiary but the life insurance company has no record of the change.
Can you tell me more about how the Interpleader Process Works?
When the life insurance company receives multiple, conflicting claims for the proceeds of a life insurance policy, typically the insurance company will file an interpleader complaint. As part of this step, the life insurance company will deposit the life insurance policy with the County Registry of the Court until a decision is made by the judge on who gets the money.
The life insurance company will typically have the county sheriff serve you with the interpleader complaint. You’ll need to answer the complaint promptly to protect your claim to the funds.
Interpleader actions are usually brought in federal district court. Once the lawsuit has begun, the insurance company will withdraw and allow the parties to argue the case and let the judge render a decision.
Arbitration, a less-formal process to settle disputes, is also an option to resolve a life insurance policy beneficiary dispute.
Like other litigation, your attorney will present evidence and testimony and argue your case. Once the court hears both sides, it will consider the support provided by each party and decide who will receive the life insurance policy benefit.
Once the court makes its decision, the judge will order the department of court records of the county to disburse from the funds paid into the Registry of the Court.
The court’s decision is final, and the judge will state that the life insurance company is “fully, finally, and forever discharged from any further liability to the defendants or to any other entity or individuals for any amounts due under the policy.”
Note that the life insurance company will request attorney fees and costs, which will be deducted from the benefit the successful party receives.
An interpleader lawsuit must be taken seriously, and you must have an attorney who is experienced in this area of law to represent you.
Once an interpleader action has been filed, you typically have just 21 days to file a response. If you don’t respond before the deadline, you risk default and forfeit your claim without participating in the case.
If you’ve been named as a party in an interpleader action or otherwise think that you’re the rightful beneficiary under a life insurance policy, please call our office to discuss your rights. The consultation is free, and if we can possibly help you recover, we will.
Beneficiary Disputes and Interpleaders
When a loved one or business partner dies, there are many complicated matters to handle, including any life insurance policies that the deceased may have had in place. If you are in a situation where multiple people claim entitlement to policy benefits, how will the insurance company determine who is rightfully entitled?
This volatile situation could lead to the interpleading of the payout, which makes having an experienced life insurance attorney by your side critical to settling any disputes.
Life insurance companies that are not clear on who should receive the benefits of a deceased loved one’s policy may choose to let a court handle the decision by interpleading. This means that to avoid paying the wrong party, they instead place the funds with the court. They then sue possible beneficiaries and let it get sorted in a courtroom.
It's essential to understand the types of disputes that could lead to interpleading and work with an attorney to avoid them.
When the deceased insured has children from multiple marriages, or maybe an extensive tight-knit family, it is common for competing claims to occur. This situation usually happens because the insured failed to add those intended to benefit upon his/her passing. Will the unnamed have an actual claim despite not being on the policy? Possibly, especially if an “all children of the insured” designation was in place.
Typically, state laws require actual named individuals on the policy to collect life insurance benefits. Those who are not listed may still have a claim if there is clear evidence of this intention. This can happen if the policyholder submitted a beneficiary change form and assumed it was in effect without knowing if the insurance company accepted the update.
A common, and awkward, life insurance policy dispute may involve an ex-spouse named as the beneficiary of the deceased. Policyholders who fail to update their named beneficiaries after a divorce cause this situation. Whether a former spouse can still receive benefits under these circumstances will depend on the type of policy and state laws surrounding their claim.
Life insurance policies gotten through employment are under the governance of the federal Employee Retirement and Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). This legislation designates the most recent beneficiary recognized on the policy as the rightful claimant. In situations involving a former spouse that is still a designated beneficiary, they would receive any proceeds allocated to them by the life insurance policy, unless there is evidence of a prior attempt at changing this designation. This may open the door for other individuals to dispute.
Policies under ERISA that converted to individual policies before death are subject to the governing jurisdiction rules for any disputes, but federal law supersedes that of the state in these policy situations.
When multiple parties claim to be the legal beneficiary of a life insurance policy, the holding company will typically pursue an interpleader action. As mentioned before, this allows the life insurance company to deposit the policy proceeds with a court, which will later payout once resolved.
Insurance companies will not be a part of the suit and will withdraw so that the competing claimants can settle their dispute through arbitration or court decision.
While it is common for insurers to opt for an interpleader action when there are multiple claims around life insurance benefits, you may save time and money by hiring a skilled life insurance attorney to represent you before a dispute arises. They can advise you of what challenges you may face, better explain how the circumstances involved with your claim could affect the outcome, and advise you on the next best steps.
Common beneficiary dispute issues that can lead to an interpleader action include:
- There was no beneficiary designation on the insured’s policy file
- The insured had children from previous marriages and had to keep the same policy as part of child support in the divorce decrees
- A beneficiary is a person of interest in the murder of the insured
- A final judgment of divorce allocates beneficiary entitlement of the insured's party to the ex-spouse
- There is suspicion of undue influence or duress regarding the insured changing the designated beneficiaries shortly before death
- The surviving spouse and former spouse of the insured claim right to the policy benefits
- Mistaken allocation of 100% of the proceeds to two different beneficiaries
- Beneficiary change forms were complete and ready to submit, but the insured died before submitting
- The insured divorced and failed to change the beneficiary designation but lived in a state with automatic revocation laws for divorce
- The insured did not comply with the life insurance company’s policies regarding the change of beneficiaries
- Both the insured and beneficiary died around the same time leading to contingent beneficiaries to dispute
Lawyers who have experience in this area of law can better evaluate the legal issues surrounding your claim and present your case to the insurance company's legal team and those competing against you for benefits. By taking this strong position early, your attorney could possibly avoid going to court and broker an agreement. Also, if your dispute has an arbitration requirement, knowledgeable counsel is invaluable to your cause.
If you face denial of life insurance benefits after the death of a loved one, speak with a trustworthy life insurance attorney with experience in this field. Your counsel may successfully avoid litigation and convince the insurance company and competing parties to agree with your claim. Avoiding interpleader actions can save time and money for all parties involved but demands retaining an experienced life insurance lawyer that can protect your interests and help you navigate the complexities of the legal process if you must go to court.