Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Truth is stranger than fiction -- these life insurance questions prove it

Life insurance can be confusing under the best circumstances. Our Consumer Advocates shared some questions they’ve received about life insurance benefits under unusual circumstances:

My ex-husband died and the life insurance company won’t give me the money, even though I’m still listed as the beneficiary on his life insurance policy. Can they do this?

Yes, they can. In fact, state law requires it. Under Washington probate law, divorce automatically cancels an ex-spouse’s standing as beneficiary on a life insurance policy. What if someone still wants their ex-spouse to be the beneficiary after the divorce? After the divorce is final, they should fill out and submit a new beneficiary form listing the ex-spouse (again) as beneficiary.

I’m in the midst of a divorce and I want to remove my soon-to-be ex-spouse as the beneficiary on my life insurance policy. Do I need to wait until the divorce is final?

The answer to this depends on a few things.

Does it look like the divorce decree will list this life insurance policy as one of the marital assets? If so, you should wait until the divorce is final, because the divorce decree might dictate what you can do with the policy. If you’re sure the divorce decree won’t list this life insurance policy as a marital asset, you could remove your wife as beneficiary for up to 50 percent of the policy.

While the marriage is still in effect, though, state community property laws make people list their spouse as beneficiary for 50 percent of the policy unless the spouse agrees in writing to do otherwise. The moment a divorce becomes final, state probate law automatically cancels the ex-spouse as beneficiary on the policy. As a result, even if you never remove your ex-spouse as the beneficiary, the insurance company won’t give your ex the life insurance money.

For obvious reasons, though, most people choose to fill out a new beneficiary form after a divorce is final.

I briefly dated someone and after we broke up, she told people that she bought a life insurance policy for me while we were still together. Is that even possible?

As odd as this may sound, we hear this question regularly. The answer: It’s unlikely that someone could buy a life insurance policy on your behalf without your knowledge and consent. Washington state law says that people need to have an “insurable interest” before they can buy a policy on someone’s life, and only a close relative such as a spouse or parent would meet this standard.

Also, before selling a life insurance policy, most insurance companies send a representative to meet you, check your identification and take a sample of your blood for testing.

If you are genuinely concerned in a situation like this and fear for your safety – something we’ve heard from many consumers – we advise you to contact your local police department.

Find more information about life insurance on our website.