I am 32, and just a month ago I found out that my ex-wife, whom I haven’t spoken to since we divorced, passed away tragically in a moped accident. My ex-wife had life insurance through her job. My ex-mother-in-law informed my father that my ex-wife had kept me as her beneficiary on her life-insurance policy, and her family wants the money for funeral costs, bills, etc.
Not only did my ex-wife have me on her policy as the primary (and only) beneficiary, she updated my home address on the policy after we divorced. Also, I found out through the insurance company that my ex-wife had two term life-insurance policies, one for me and one for my ex-sister-in-law.
I blocked my ex-in-laws, and now I received a threatening voicemail from a blocked number, so I’ve taken it upon myself to notify the authorities. I live in New York, I am remarried, and my divorce was very simple and easy. We left the marriage with what we came into it with. The life-insurance company approved the check in my name, and is sending it to my home.
Am I legally in the clear? I have not spoken to or bothered these people once since we divorced five years ago. I just want to be left alone and move on with my life.
Thank you very much in advance.
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The life-insurance policy was between your ex-wife and her insurer. It would be extremely onerous and expensive for your in-laws to challenge that agreement. It’s possible to overturn a life-insurance policy if it explicitly goes against the terms of a divorce decree, as happened in this case, but that too was an onerous and complicated lawsuit. In your case, it was clear your ex-wife wanted you to be the beneficiary. She did, as you say, update your address. It would be hard to see a more explicit sign of her intentions than that.
“Unless the policyholder of the life-insurance plan changes the beneficiary designation officially, the people originally named will remain the beneficiaries through the life of the policy,” according to Heban, Murphree and Lewandowski, a law firm in Toledo, Ohio. “Even if the policyholder was not on speaking terms with the individual upon his or her death, that beneficiary would still receive the income.”
“Disputes can also come up when the policyholder makes changes to the policy near the end of life, and the new beneficiaries are unexpected,” the firm adds. “Sometimes the previous beneficiaries may feel that their loved one was coerced into these changes or was not in sound mind at the time the changes are made. This, too, can spark a desire to dispute the beneficiaries.”
It’s difficult to glean from your letter whether your in-laws had little funds to pay for the funeral expenses, or were mad as hell that you were listed as beneficiary and felt you should contribute, or both. On the one hand, it seems like they are not in a state of mind to be reasonable and, chances are, if you did engage it would lead to further demands and acrimony.
Perhaps you could talk to your ex-wife’s lawyer and see if there is enough money to cover the costs of her funeral and, if not, you could make a contribution. But given the alleged harassing phone calls, their anger and grief, and their antipathy toward you, you would need to have all correspondence go through the attorney and refrain from any direct communication.
There is no excuse for their taking their grief out on you. Still, spare a thought for her family. If you are fed up, imagine how they feel.
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