Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Opinion Digests / Kids can’t show claim to life insurance proceeds

Kids can’t show claim to life insurance proceeds

Where the decedent’s two children argued the non-family member their mother designated as the beneficiary of her life insurance policy had ill motives and took advantage of their mother’s mental health issues, but the children failed to support these allegations with any proof, the non-family member was entitled to the proceeds.


This matter is before the court following an order directing the parties to inform the court of their respective rights to the proceeds of Connie R. Sears’ life insurance policy. The life insurance proceeds total $40,976.51, which includes the policy’s full value plus interest. The interested parties who are asserting rights to the proceeds are James W. Cooper Jr., Dennis C. Kennedy, Patrice Cibula and William L. Steele. Cibula and Steele are Sears’ children.


Over the years, Sears made multiple changes as to who was the primary beneficiary under the plan, so she clearly knew that there was a specific beneficiary designation form that needed to be completed and signed before a new primary beneficiary could be established. Although the children argue that Sears intended to change the primary beneficiary to Steele, as evidenced by her request for a new beneficiary designation form from UNUM, she never actually submitted a completed and signed form. Without additional proof, it is not Sears’ purported intent to change the beneficiary that controls, but the completed designation form that actually changes it.

The children allege that Cooper and Kennedy had ill motives and that they were simply taking advantage of Sears during a difficult time. However, the children have failed to demonstrate any real proof of unlawful conduct beyond blanket assertions. Simply stating that Cooper and Kennedy were “leveraging” Sears’ depression “in an effort to gain access to her resources” is not enough to show that the beneficiary designation forms were fraudulently procured.

Sears signed and filed two different beneficiary designation forms with UNUM, one in August and December of 2020, each listing Cooper and Kennedy as policy beneficiaries. This runs contrary to the assertion that Cooper and Kennedy coercively pressured Sears to file this beneficiary designation form immediately after her husband’s passing.

Lastly, the children allege that Sears “struggled with depression and mental health issues her entire life,” and this depression worsened upon her husband’s passing. Although the court does not dispute Sears’ possible mental health issues, the children do not demonstrate that these mental health issues were of such a degree as to render her legally incapacitated or unable to handle her affairs. Sears having depression or mental health issues alone does not legally negate the properly submitted beneficiary designation forms, which clearly names James W. Cooper Jr. as the primary beneficiary.

Therefore, because the children failed to submit any real proof of fraudulent conduct or assert that the beneficiary designation forms were unlawfully submitted, the court finds that, as the signed December 2020 beneficiary designation form states, James W. Cooper Jr. is the policy’s named primary beneficiary and is entitled to a 100% share of the proceeds.

UNUM Life Insurance Company of America v. Cooper, Case No. 3:22-cv-455, Dec. 22, 2022. EDVA at Richmond (Hudson). VLW 022-3-563. 8 pp.