My father had a life insurance policy that his wife (my step-mother) had taken out through her employer. She died a few weeks after him and had not filed a claim for the insurance proceeds before her death. They lived in Massachusetts and neither had a will. Who would the proceeds go to . . . her estate or his?
I'm so very sorry for your loss. The answer to your question likely lies within the insurance policy itself. As a default, each state has a period of survival, and they vary quite a bit. Texas, for example, imposes a survivorship requirement of 120 hours, or five days. If a beneficiary dies within that time, they are deemed to have predeceased the original decedent. This default requirement can be overwritten, however, and it often is.
Most Wills, for example, include a survivorship provision, but make the date something more meaningful and practical, like 30 days. Like Wills, life insurance policies often (if not always) include a survivorship provision. The terms should be spelled out in the policy itself, and you may or may not have access to it.
Three consequences could occur. First, your step-mother may have survived the required time after your father -- meaning the proceeds become a part of her estate and subject to administration under her Will or under the laws of intestacy that apply to her. Second, your step-mother might not have survived the required time, but your father might have named a contingent beneficiary -- meaning that the proceeds would belong to that individual. Third, your step-mother might not have survived the required time, and there is no contingent beneficiary -- meaning that the policy proceeds would revert back to your father's estate and become subject to administration under his Will or subject to the laws of intestacy that apply to him.
Your best bet is to try to gain some insight on this issue directly from the insurance provider. If you get stonewalled on that, do yourself a favor and consult with a probate attorney near you. The policy information is critical to understanding where the proceeds should be headed.
This answer does not constitute legal advice. I am admitted to practice law in the State of Texas only, and make no attempt to opine on matters of law that are not relevant to Texas. This answer is based on general principles of law that may or may not relate to your specific situation, and is for promotional purposes only. You should never rely on this answer alone and nothing in these communications creates an attorney-client relationship.
Contracts / Agreements Lawyer
If the life insurance policy failed to name a contingent beneficiary, your father's life insurance proceeds will likely go to your step-mother's estate. I agree with my colleague that the policy may address this issue directly in its terms, so you will want a life insurance or probate attorney to review the policy. Finally, your step-mother's spousal policy on your father may be governed by ERISA, a federal statute that applies to many policies obtained through employment. Therefore, Massachusetts law may be preempted and federal law will apply.
The legal information provided above should not be interpreted as nor construed to be formal legal advice. This legal information is not intended to represent any guarantee of a favorable result on any particular case, and such legal information does not form a lawyer/attorney-client relationship between Heather D. Lee, Esq. and any individual, party, and/or entity.
Personal Injury Lawyer
A beneficiary should be designated on your policy. For those people with delayed or denied life insurance claims, they should retain a life insurance lawyer. Google "life insurance lawyer"....here, I did it for you... www.InsuranceClaimLawFirm.com
Car / Auto Accident Lawyer
My condolences on your loss. Mr Thomas has provided an excellent answer to your question. (It's one of the best attorney responses I've seen on AVVO.com). The only thing I have to add is the link below to an AVVO.com Legal Guide on Life Insurance Claims. It has 10 tips for locating other life insurance policies and you may want to rev'w those suggestions to see if there may be any other life insurance policies out there. (If you find the guide helpful, a thumbs-up vote would be appreciated.) Again, my sympathy on the loss of your father.