Life Insurance Beneficiary

Arlington insurance attorneys need to know when someone can collect on a life insurance policy as a beneficiary. A 1995, Eastland Court of Appeals opinion is worth reading. The style of the case is, Maris v. McCraw. Here is some information from the case.
The controlling issue in this circumstantial evidence case is whether there is sufficient evidence to show that the insured, a federal employee, filed before her death a signed beneficiary designation form with her employer. The policy provides that the life insurance proceeds are to be paid to the beneficiary designated by the employee in a signed and witnessed writing received before death “in the employing office.” If there is no designated beneficiary, the proceeds are to be paid to the widow or widower of the employee.
Donna Ann Maris died in 1987. Her personnel file did not contain a written beneficiary designation form signed by Maris designating any person as the beneficiary of her life insurance proceeds. Maris was survived by her husband, Jimmie Maris, and by her two children from a prior marriage, Tracy and Kristina. The children filed a declaratory judgment suit against the husband contending that they were entitled to the insurance proceeds because their mother signed and filed the appropriate form with the employing office designating them as beneficiaries and because the beneficiary designation form was subsequently lost. The husband counterclaimed asserting that he was entitled to the life insurance proceeds.
Donna married Jimmy Maris in 1980. They lived together as husband and wife for only six or eight months. When Donna died in 1987, she and Jimmie had been separated and had not lived as husband and wife for more than six years. However, they were never divorced.
Prior to her death, Donna signed and filed with her employer “Designation of Beneficiary” forms naming her two children as the beneficiaries of her “Civil Service Retirement” and any “Unpaid Compensation.” Charles Downs and Peter H. Perkins, co-employees of Donna, identified their signatures as witnesses on the “Unpaid Compensation” beneficiary designation form. Neither Downs nor Perkins were witnesses on the “Civil Service Retirement” beneficiary designation form. Both Downs and Perkins testified that, when they signed the “Unpaid Compensation” form in 1980 or 1981, they each, to the best of their recollection, also signed as witnesses to the “life insurance” beneficiary designation form. Downs and Perkins testified that the form named Donnas’ two children as the beneficiaries of her life insurance.
This Court held that the circumstantial evidence showed that it is more probable that Donna did in fact sign and file the original insurance beneficiary designation form. It is apparent that Donna was aware of the need to file beneficiary designation forms with her employer as shown by her filing the proper forms for her retirement pay and any unpaid compensation. The evidence shows that Donna intended for her property to go to her children and not to her estranged husband. Downs and Perkins testified that they recalled witnessing the life insurance beneficiary designation form. Donna prepared in her own handwriting, as was her habit, the duplicate form naming her children. When Wiggins contacted the personnel department of the Department of Labor, Donnas’ employer was unable to locate any beneficiary designation forms signed by Donna. Payment of the retirement proceeds and of the unpaid compensation to the children was accomplished only after Wiggins found copies showing that the originals had been filed with the Department of Labor. This Court considered that the jury could reasonably conclude that, for some unknown reason, the personnel department had a defective internal procedure which resulted in the misplacing or losing of beneficiary designation forms.
The children introduced into evidence a “duplicate beneficiary designation form,” dated August 27, 1980, in the handwriting of Donna which named her two children as beneficiaries of her “Federal Employees Group Life Insurance” policy. There is evidence that it was Donnas’ habit to complete handwritten duplicate forms before typing and filing the originals. The handwritten form was found after Donnas’ death in her desk at the office where she worked.
Lena J. Wiggins, the mother of Donna, testified that the personnel file of Donna at the Department of Labor where she worked did not contain either the “Unpaid Compensation” beneficiary form or the “Civil Service Retirement” beneficiary designation form. After Donnas’ death, Wiggins found the “filed-marked copies” of the two beneficiary designation forms in Donnas’ personal file at home. The copies showed that the originals had been filed with the “Regional Personnel” office of the “U.S. Department of Labor.” Wiggins testified that the federal government did not pay the unpaid compensation and retirement benefits to the children until she provided the government officials with the file-marked copies showing that the original documents had been filed with the Department of Labor. Wiggins testified that the Department of Labor had lost the original beneficiary designation forms for both the “Unpaid Compensation” and “Retirement Benefits.”
There was no evidence that Donna intended to name or ever named her estranged husband as a beneficiary of any of her property. There was evidence that Donna intended to leave all of her property, including her life insurance, to her two children.