With review of a Virginia case, the United States Supreme Court could end confusion in some cases over whether a decedent’s spouse or a former spouse gets the life insurance benefits.
In the case of Hillman v. Maretta, a husband took out life insurance through his federal job and made his wife the beneficiary. He later divorced and remarried without changing the beneficiary. On his death, the widow sought to recover the benefits from the former wife.
Under Virginia law, the ex-wife could be made to pay, but the Virginia Supreme Court held federal law preempted the Virginia law since the insurance policy was issued through the Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance plan.
The Virginia court acknowledged its decision broke with rulings from a majority of other state court decisions, and the widow urged the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the conflict.
“Until it does so, there will be an increasing amount of needless nationwide litigation regarding this unresolved issue causing unnecessary hardship to grieving families,” wrote Daniel Ruttenberg of Vienna in the widow’s petition for appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court accepted the appeal Friday.