Wednesday, February 15, 2017
In 1997, Gary Vassil named his wife as the beneficiary of 83% of his group life insurance, while his three children were to receive the rest. The couple divorced in 2003, but the policy was not mentioned in the proceedings. Thirteen years later in 2016, Vassil passed away with his ex-wife still named as a beneficiary of the policy; she refused to waive her status. The federal law governing insurance programs directs the death benefits to go to the beneficiaries named by the employee. Further, for divorced employees, it requires that the divorce decree expressly revoke the spouse’s beneficiary status. After finding out that federal law did not help their case, Vassil’s children turned to state law. Unfortunately, state law proved to be unhelpful, and the judge ruled that the bulk of Vassil’s government life insurance be awarded to his ex-wife.
See Julianne Tobin Wojay, Despite Divorce, Woman Still Gets Ex’s Insurance, Bloomberg, February 14, 2017.
Special thanks to Naomi Cahn (Harold H. Greene Professor of Law, George Washington University School of Law) for bringing this article to my attention.