Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Federal Court Allows Hearing Over Inheritance Dispute

Inheritance disputeIn Life Insurance Company of North America v. Wagner, the surviving husband and the mother of the deceased found themselves in federal district court arguing the inheritance of life insurance death benefits. The surviving husband raised three defenses: the probate exception, the Younger Abstention Doctrine, and the Colorado River Abstention Doctrine.

The court rejected the probate exception argument, noting that the deceased’s mother could pursue probate litigation over the insurance proceeds in federal court. As for the Younger Abstention Doctrine, it precludes a federal court from hearing a case if it can be litigated by state authorities; however, the court rejected this argument because the state has no control over the insurance funds and there is no current litigation regarding the property. The court also struck down the husband’s Colorado River Abstention Doctrine defense due to the fact that there was no current parallel litigation over the issue.

See Jeffrey Skatoff, Federal Court Permitted to Hear Inheritance Dispute, Florida Probate Lawyers, August 1, 2016.


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I agree that the "probate exception" to federal jurisdiction does not apply to a contract dispute over life insurance proceeds. The original author (Mr. Skatoff) both overstates the case, by describing it as an "inheritance dispute," and understates the probate exception by describing it as a limitation on diversity jurisdiction and not federal jurisdiction generally. (E.g., Marshall v. Marshall was a bankruptcy case.)

Posted by: Dan Evans | Aug 3, 2016 5:20:20 AM

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