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My father and mother were separated but not divorced. If he is not on life insurance policy at her death, is he a beneficiary?

Los Angeles, CA |

My father left my mother about 30 years ago. He has raised a new family in a common law relationship. They never divorced. My mother just passed. They both lived (live) in California. Will my father have a say in settling her insurance policies and estate?

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Attorney answers 3


Life insurance is essentially a conract. The life insurance company will pay the designated benficiaries. If you fathe is not designated as a beneficiary, then he will not have any say in the distribution of the death benefit from the life insurance policy. If no beneficiart is designated, then the life insurance company will pay the proceeds to your mother's estate. Your mother's estate will be administered and distributed in accordance with her estate plan. If she has a will or trust, then that plan will control and your father should have no meaningful involvement, If your mom does not have a will or trust, then her estate plan will be governed by California's statutes regarding intestate succession and also by reference to the manner in which title to the assets is held. More information is needed regarding the circumstances such as how title to her other assets are held. However, there is no will, trust and if there was no formal legal separation filed with your mom, then your father may have an interest in the estate depending upon how title to the assets were held by your nother. Any qualified and experienced estate planning attorney in the LA area would be able to assist you with this matter. That attorney would need to see a list of the assets and confirmation of the manner that title or ownership of that asset was held by your mother.

Atousa Saei

Atousa Saei


This is a very considerate and will articulated answer.


I agree that life insurance is a contractual arrangement, if your father is not named on the insurance policy as a beneficiary (and there are other beneficiaries) then he should have no claim to the insurance. However, the answer could be different with respect to the estate. A person's estate is that property that remains at the person's death that does not pass directly to someone else through some type of payable on death provision. You can set up most bank accounts, trusts, real estate and other property to pass directly to chosen people or entities without the need to go through the probate (legal proceedings regarding one's estate) process.

This information is provided for general informational purposes and is not intended as legal advice. An attorney licensed in your jurisdiction can answer questions specific to your specific fact situation and provide you appropriate advice as necessary based on the specific facts of your matter and the jurisdiction in which you reside. If you are in Arizona and interested in discussing your matter further I can be reached at: (480) 838-9000 Mark D. Fullerton, P.C. 1839 S. Alma School Road, Suite 275 Mesa, Arizona 85210


First, I am sorry for your loss.

The insurance answer is the most simple, it is contractual. The life insurance beneficiary is part of the contract, subject to change by the policy owners (usually). If you father was listed as a beneficiary, then he benefits. If he was not listed, then he does not benefit.

The more challenging portion of the question has to do with your mother's estate. Was there an estate plan (at least a will) in place? If so, you would need to look to those documents for guidance in the possible role your father would play, if any. If you father and mother never divorced or formally separated and your mother dies intestate, then the statutory scheme for intestate distribution would be in play and your father, most likely, would be involved.

Depending on the omitted facts, you should consult with a local probate attorney for assistance in resolving your mother's estate.

When responding to questions posted on Avvo, I provide a general purpose response based on California law as I am licensed in California. In reviewing my response, you are specifically advised that your use of, or reliance upon any response I provide is not advisable. I do not have all relevant background details or facts related to your issue / matter, thus I am not in a position to give you legal advice. Further, your review, use of, or reliance upon my response does not establish an attorney-client relationship between us nor does it qualify as a legal consultation for any purpose. For specific advice regarding your particular circumstances, you should consult and retain local counsel.

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