Life Insurance: Marriage Does Not Create A Presumptive Right

In Fox v. Lincoln Financial Group v. Scarpone ,(A-3189-13T4) decided February 24, 2015,  the Appellate Division, in a published decision, addressed a claim by a wife who was not named as her husband’s beneficiary under his life insurance policy.    Prior to his marriage to Fox, the husband had named Scarpone as the beneficiary.   Fox argued that marriage creates a “bright line” rule that there is a “presumptive right” to a spouse’s life insurance benefits.  Fox relied on Vasconi v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. Of Am., 124 N.J. 338 (1991).  In Vasconi, the N.J. Supreme Court held that  divorce presumptively disqualifies a former spouse from receiving life insurance benefits when designated as the beneficiary prior to divorce. Fox argued that marriage should create a like presumption that the wife is entitled to life insurance proceeds.

The Appellate Division disagreed with Fox and ruled that it is up to the Legislature to change the present law.  The Appellate Division referenced N.J.S.A. 3B: 3-14 which provides that divorce automatically revokes a designation of the ex-wife as beneficiary under a life insurance policy.  If the Legislature so chooses, it could adopt a similar statute for a wife to be entitled to the life insurance rather than the designated beneficiary.  Absent same, the Appellate Division ruled that Fox is not entitled to the life insurance benefits.