Life Insurance Beneficiary

Insurance policy holders in Grand Prairie, Fort Worth, Burleson, Benbrook, Crowley, Joshua, Lake Worth, Cleburne, and other places in Tarrant County and Texas may want to know about this case. It involves the naming of a life insurance beneficiary in a life insurance policy and Texas law.
This case was decided by the United States Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. The opinion was issued on February 9, 2012. The style of the case is, Provident Life And Accident Insurance Company v. Jill Cleveland, et. al. Here is the case.
This was an interpleader action filed to determine who should receive the proceeds of a life insurance policy. Shona Cleveland, the former wife of decedent Gerald Cleveland, appealed from the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Jill Cleveland, who was Gerald’s wife at the time of his death.
Gerald and Shona married in 1993 and had one child together. The couple separated in 1998, and Gerald filed for divorce in March 2001. Gerald obtained a life insurance policy in November 2001 naming as the beneficiary “Shona Cleveland Ex-Spouse.” He did not name an alternate or secondary beneficiary. The couple was not divorced until June 2002 when a final divorce decree was entered. By its terms the decree divested Shona of any interest in any life insurance policies held by Gerald. Following the divorce, Gerald married Jill and had one child with her. Gerald subsequently died intestate as a result of a motorcycle accident in March 2009.
Pursuant to the Texas Family Code, a pre-divorce decree designation of a spouse as the beneficiary of an insurance policy is ineffective unless (1) the divorce decree designates the former spouse as the beneficiary, (2) the insured re-designates the former spouse after rendition of the decree, or (3) the former spouse is designated as a beneficiary in trust for the benefit of a child or dependent. This is found in the Texas Family Code, Section 9.301. It is undisputed that Shona was Gerald’s spouse at the time Gerald designated her as the policy’s beneficiary. Because none of the exceptions to Section 9.301 are applicable, we agree with the district court that Shona’s interest in the policy vanished by operation of law when the couple subsequently divorced. This position is supported by Texas case law interpreting the statute.
Shona argued that because Gerald designated her as “Ex-Spouse,” Gerald either thought he was divorced or intended to satisfy the statute’s re-designation requirement. She argued that the court should look beyond the plain meaning of the statutory text to conclude that the state legislature did not intend for Section 9.301 to apply under the circumstances. Under the rules of statutory construction, a court must give effect to the legislature’s intent as evident in the express and unambiguous words of a statute, and it may not go beyond the statute’s plain meaning when the terms are clear. Shona was asking the court to divine the intent of Gerald rather than the intent of the legislature. The court declined to divine the intent of Gerald because the statute is clear and unambiguous. As the district court held, because Gerald designated Shona as the beneficiary before the divorce decree was entered, he was required to re-designate her if he wished for her to remain as the beneficiary after the divorce. Because Shona’s designation was rendered ineffective by operation of law, the court said it did not need to consider her additional argument that the language of the divorce decree was insufficient to waive a beneficial interest in the policy.
Whenever an insurance company refuses to pay a claim on a life insurance policy claim, it is vital that the claimant see an experienced Insurance Law Attorney as soon as possible.