In Hillman v. Maretta, the Supreme Court said that Virginia law must yield to ERISA and to the federal law—governing serviceman’s life insurance policies.
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski, Family Lawyer
Federal law preempts state law regarding the designation of a beneficiary of a life insurance policy. In Washington, the designation of a life insurance policy beneficiary is revoked upon entry of a decree as to the former spouse. However, the United States Supreme Court has held that the pension plan administrator and/or life insurance company is entitled to rely upon the beneficiary designation, despite Washington’s statute. See Egelhoff v. Egelhoff, 532 U. S. 141 (2001), 121 S.Ct. 1322 (2001).
Virginia law went a step further. It allowed the heirs to sue the beneficiary to recover the life insurance proceeds if that beneficiary is the former spouse. The Supreme Court held unanimously that Virginia law must yield to ERISA and to the federal law which governs serviceman’s life insurance policies.
The lesson: Tell your clients to change the beneficiary! Do not rely upon Washington’s statute.
Practice Tip: What does your closing letter say?
Christina A. Meserve and Charles E. Szurszewski practice family law in Olympia, Washington with the law firm of Connolly Tacon & Meserve.