This Day On The Street
Continue to site right-arrow
This account is pending registration confirmation. Please click on the link within the confirmation email previously sent you to complete registration.
Need a new registration confirmation email? Click here
Stocks Under $10 with 50-100% upside potential - 14 days FREE!

A spouse's right to life insurance money

Some states have laws that automatically revoke beneficiary designations to ex-spouses once the divorces are final, unless the policy is part of a divorce agreement. If the insured person dies and the ex-spouse is still named as beneficiary, the proceeds go to the secondary beneficiary; if there is no secondary beneficiary, they generally go into the deceased's estate. This protects current spouses from oversights.

But those state laws are pre-empted if the coverage is through an employer-sponsored plan governed by federal law.

That point was underlined in a June 3, 2013, U.S Supreme Court decision, which ruled in favor of an ex-spouse over a widow in such a dispute.

Warren Hillman had a life insurance policy through work as a federal government employee worth $124,558.03 when he died in 2008 at age 66. But the beneficiary on the policy was not his wife, Jacqueline Hillman of Virginia, but rather his ex-wife, Judy Maretta, whom he divorced 10 years earlier. Hillman had forgotten to update the beneficiary.

Maretta filed a claim for the death benefit and collected the proceeds, and Jacqueline Hillman sued. Virginia law automatically revokes beneficiary designations to ex-spouses and lets the family of the deceased sue if an ex-spouse collects the proceeds as the named beneficiary.

The Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act, which governs Hillman's group life policy, states that the death benefit must be paid to the named beneficiary. The Supreme Court ruled that the federal law pre-empts Virginia's law.

"It's a very significant case," says attorney Daniel Ruttenberg, a partner at SmolenPlevy in Vienna, Va., who argued the case before the Supreme Court for Jacqueline Hillman. Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance "is the largest life insurance program by far in the world, so it affects millions of individuals."

The case emphasizes the need to review and update beneficiary designations after major life changes. Yet many people, like Hillman, neglect to do so.

3 of 4

Select the service that is right for you!

Action Alerts PLUS
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer and Stephanie Link actively manage a real portfolio and reveal their money management tactics while giving advanced notice before every trade.

Product Features:
  • $2.5+ million portfolio
  • Large-cap and dividend focus
  • Intraday trade alerts from Cramer
  • Weekly roundups
TheStreet Quant Ratings
Try it NOW
Only $49.95/yr

Access the tool that DOMINATES the Russell 2000 and the S&P 500.

Product Features:
  • Buy, hold, or sell recommendations for over 4,300 stocks
  • Unlimited research reports on your favorite stocks
  • A custom stock screener
  • Upgrade/downgrade alerts
Stocks Under $10
Try it NOW

David Peltier, uncovers low dollar stocks with extraordinary upside potential that are flying under Wall Street's radar.

Product Features:
  • Model portfolio
  • Stocks trading below $10
  • Intraday trade alerts
  • Weekly roundups
Dividend Stock Advisor
Try it NOW

Jim Cramer's protege, David Peltier, identifies the best of breed dividend stocks that will pay a reliable AND significant income stream.

Product Features:
  • Diversified model portfolio of dividend stocks
  • Alerts when market news affect the portfolio
  • Bi-weekly updates with exact steps to take - BUY, HOLD, SELL
Real Money Pro
Try it NOW

All of Real Money, plus 15 more of Wall Street's sharpest minds delivering actionable trading ideas, a comprehensive look at the market, and fundamental and technical analysis.

Product Features:
  • Real Money + Doug Kass Plus 15 more Wall Street Pros
  • Intraday commentary & news
  • Ultra-actionable trading ideas
Options Profits
Try it NOW

Our options trading pros provide daily market commentary and over 100 monthly option trading ideas and strategies to help you become a well-seasoned trader.

Product Features:
  • 100+ monthly options trading ideas
  • Actionable options commentary & news
  • Real-time trading community
  • Options TV
To begin commenting right away, you can log in below using your Disqus, Facebook, Twitter, OpenID or Yahoo login credentials. Alternatively, you can post a comment as a "guest" just by entering an email address. Your use of the commenting tool is subject to multiple terms of service/use and privacy policies - see here for more details.
Submit an article to us!


DOW 17,756.83 -21.32 -0.12%
S&P 500 2,063.73 +2.50 0.12%
NASDAQ 4,752.76 +4.3640 0.09%

Brokerage Partners

Rates from

  • Mortgage
  • Credit Cards
  • Auto

Free Newsletters from TheStreet

My Subscriptions:

After the Bell

Before the Bell

Booyah! Newsletter

Midday Bell

TheStreet Top 10 Stories

Winners & Losers

Register for Newsletters
Top Rated Stocks Top Rated Funds Top Rated ETFs