Divorce and effect on Beneficiary Designations in Pennsylvania

In the course of our trusts and estates practice in Pennsylvania, some questions from clients arise in relation to divorce law, particularly when death occurs with a either a husband and a wife in the process of a divorce or a husband and a wife who have obtained a decree in divorce from a Judge.

In one case, a decree in divorce was granted between a husband and wife who had minor children.  Shortly after the divorce, the ex-husband died, however, his beneficiary designation on his $1 million life insurance policy still named the ex-wife as the primary beneficiary, and there was contingent beneficiary designation.  Thus, the question was who is entitled to the life insurance proceeds given the situation?

In PA, 20 P.A. C.S. Section 6111.2 is applicable to this question which states:

Effect of divorce or pending divorce on designation of beneficiaries.

(A)  General rule.–Any designation described in subsection (a)(2) in favor of the individual’s spouse or former spouse that was revocable by the individual at the individual’s death shall become ineffective for all purposes and shall be construed as if the spouse or former spouse had predeceased the individual, unless it appears the designation was intended to survive the divorce based on:

(1)  the wording of the designation;

(2)  a court order;

(3)  a written contract between the individual and the spouse or former spouse; or

(4)  a designation of a former spouse as a beneficiary after the divorce decree has been issued.

Applying the law in PA, the answer would be: the former wife is not the beneficiary of the life insurance proceeds, and because there was no contingent beneficiary designation, the proceeds pass to the ex-husband’s Estate.  The ex-husband had no Will, therefore under the laws of intestacy of Pennsylvania, the ex-husband’s minor children, as beneficiaries of his intestate Estate, are the ultimate beneficiaries of the life insurance proceeds.

The other issue that arises from this situation is the fact that the minor children will now receive an outright inheritance of $1 million.  We will examine that issue in our upcoming blogs here at Maloles Law, LLC.  In the meantime, should you have any questions about Wills and beneficiary designations, please contact our experienced Montgomery County, Delaware County, Philadelphia County, Bucks County and Chester County trusts and estates attorneys.


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