My ex-husband put his wife on his life-insurance before he died, going against our divorce. Now she’s battling me in court

Dear Moneyist,

I divorced my ex-husband in 2017. It was a difficult divorce, and later he quit paying child support and we were in a long court battle, which now continues after his death.

The 2017 divorce decree stated my ex was to maintain the current life-insurance policy we had when we were married, which was established in 2004 until the children graduate high school or turn 24 years old.

Fast forward to October 2020 and my ex husband was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He asked if he could add his girlfriend to the policy, or add more insurance for her. I said no. He then married his girlfriend; he didn’t tell the kids or me.

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He went on to have his new wife, an insurance broker, switched as owner of this policy for the children, and the life insurance placed in a trust with her as executor of his estate. My lawyer tried to reverse this, which was ruled on in court in my favor.

My ex’s lawyer refused to provide copies of the policy that their lawyer sanctioned, and still has not followed multiple judicial rulings. This is now going to the appeals court. My ex passed away a few weeks ago. My lawyers have a handwritten beneficiary page from his wife.

Yet no policy copy was ever produced. I cannot get the proceeds for my children. I have had to sue his wife personally. Now she and her lawyers are trying to drag their feet in court. I have no idea about the life-insurance proceeds or what she has done.

In addition, his wife wants these two cases merged so that she is representing the estate of my ex and not held accountable personally. I am beyond shocked at how this has continued. How can anyone just choose not to follow a judge’s orders?

First Wife

Dear First,

If people followed the rules, there would be no bounty hunters, and no jails. As the court has already ruled, a divorce decree trumps a private contract in the eyes of the law. The life-insurance policy will not be paid out to your ex’s wife. The court will handle that.

Your ex-husband’s wife is making life difficult for you now, but wanting her to be any different to who she actually is wishing upon a star. It won’t make this unpleasantness go away any sooner, and it won’t give you the money from your ex-husband’s life-insurance policy any faster either.

Bruce Jackson from Ohio died in 2013. His divorce decree named his daughter as beneficiary of his life insurance, but he neglected to change the name of the beneficiary from his uncle to his daughter on the policy, so Sun Life paid his uncle instead.

A federal judge upheld the divorce decree. Sun Life appealed, but the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017 also sided with his daughter. The divorce decree, which is sanctioned by the courts, trumped the life insurance policy, a private contract.

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It was particularly messy as it seemed that no one was trying to claim something that he or she believed did not belong to them. It also took several years to work its way through the courts, so it’s not clear whether the insurer or the uncle repaid the money.

According to Fleming & Curti, a law firm in Tucson, Ariz., there are lessons to learn from the Bruce Jackson story. Among them: “Pay attention to beneficiary designations, and follow up when you have life changes … way too much of Bruce Jackson’s insurance proceeds went to lawyers. Don’t let that happen to your estate plan.”

How can your ex-husband’s wife go against the judge’s orders? Self-will, greed or the belief that she deserves it, she’s in the right, and the law will eventually prove her right or bend to her will? Who knows? Don’t buy a ticket to Second Wife Land. That trip could take a lot longer than this court case.

Save your energy for the final court ruling, and keep living your life.

You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions related to coronavirus at [email protected]

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