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Probate and Estate Litigation Blog

Can you contest an insurance beneficiary?

You may recognize that retirement plans and insurance policies do not receive quite the same treatment as wills when someone dies. In fact, while a will may have to go through probate, an insurance policy or retirement plan might avoid court scrutiny.

If you are in a situation where you believe that your loved one had outdated or wrong beneficiaries on the policy, is it possible for you to contest the beneficiaries? The answer is that in some situations, it is possible, but you will likely have to go through mediation, arbitration or court. Something such as writing to the insurance company and explaining the situation is insufficient.

Common scenarios involving naming the wrong person

In many situations, the deceased person had remarried yet left the first spouse as the beneficiary on an insurance policy or retirement account. Often, this is an honest mistake, which can be relatively easy to show if the rest of the deceased's estate planning shows a desire to include the second spouse and excludes the first spouse. However, it could get trickier if the insurance company shows that the deceased got in touch with the company recently and reiterated that the original beneficiary is the right one. It can also get muddled if the deceased's estate planning provides for the original beneficiary as well.

Also, a recent beneficiary change does not always indicate it is what the deceased wanted. For example, he or she could have had mild dementia or been pressured to make the change. 

Another common scenario in which the "wrong" person is on the account involves, ironically, the deceased naming a second spouse as beneficiary instead of the first. Say that in the divorce decree, the deceased agreed to keep the first spouse named, at least for a certain period of time, as part of the settlement or spousal support agreements. However, the deceased went ahead at some point and changed the name anyway.

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