Question: Does a divorce nullify my client’s ex-spouse as a life insurance beneficiary?
Answer: It depends on the relevant state’s laws.
Several states have enacted legislation that works to effectively nullify an ex-spouse as a primary beneficiary for an insurance policy. One of these states is the State of Florida. In 2012 the state passed F.S. 732.703 which voids the designation of a former spouse as a beneficiary of an interest in an asset that will be transferred or paid upon the death of the decedent if:
- The decedent’s marriage was judicially dissolved or declared invalid before the decedent’s death and
- The designation was made before the dissolution or order invalidating the marriage.
If this law applies the asset will pass as if the former spouse predeceased the decedent. This can create a number of consequences. If there is a contingent beneficiary named then the asset will go to the contingent beneficiary. If there is no contingent beneficiary, the asset will likely end up as part of the decedent’s probate estate. Probate assets are subject to the probate process, and therefore become potentially accessible by the decedent’s creditors. The probate process also tends to be long and drawn out, which delays the beneficiary’s ability to access the asset as well. Your client may want the ex-spouse to remain the beneficiary despite the divorce. These laws would frustrate that desire. An individual could affirm the beneficiary designation after divorce in order to name that ex-spouse as beneficiary.
For these reasons it is important for financial professionals to stay in contact with clients and remain up to date on their life situations. A check on clients’ current life circumstances might save a lot of headaches later as well as present the opportunity to address clients’ changing needs.