My wife and I were separated for about 10 months. A few months ago, separation papers were filed after undergoing mediation and not reaching a resolution. She was diagnosed with a brain tumor and died about 3 weeks ago. She made her mom Power Of Attorney about one year ago. I was the beneficiary on her life insurance policy until two days before her death, at which time her mom took me off as beneficiary and placed my children as beneficiary. She also sold her car about two months ago, after separation was filed. My understanding was that all legal issues and assets are supposed to be frozen until determined by the court. Her mom never allowed us to progress with legal matters, so we were in “limbo” for about the last year. I have heard that in some states the husband has to agree to be removed as beneficiary. What are my legal rights?
When a spouse dies during the pending of domestic litigation, depending upon the legal status of the case, the death may terminate the proceedings or the case may proceed with the deceased spouse’s legal representative (executor, administrator, or other person depending upon the law of the applicable jurisdiction) assuming responsibility for the case. Your comment that her mother did not allow legal matters to progress raises a question as to whether her mother simply exerted her influence over your wife or whether your wife’s illness caused her mother to be appointed her guardian by a court, which would be a slightly different situation. The attorney representing you in the domestic litigation can review whether the change of beneficiary or sale of the car were permitted under the status of your case and will advise you as to the effect of your wife’s death on your legal matter. If you were not represented by legal counsel, you should retain counsel to review the status of your domestic litigation case as well as any rights you may have as to the estate of your wife.
The terms of any power of attorney or guardianship granted to your wife’s mother will determine whether her actions on behalf of your wife regarding the beneficiary issue and sale of the car were authorized or if your wife’s mother may be held accountable for her actions. The change of life insurance beneficiaries may be subject to limitations under the terms of the policy, state law, or, if the life insurance is part of an employer or union sponsored retirement or benefits plan, by the terms of the plan. Your attorney can review the applicable requirements or contact the insurance company to ascertain the propriety of the change of beneficiary.
Generally, unless the court enters specific temporary relief (pendente lite) orders restricting or dictating certain financial conduct of the parties, the parties are not prevented from engaging in financial or property actions solely due to the fact that the parties are pursuing divorce or legal separation (separate maintenance) proceedings. The parties will be held accountable in the litigation for how they handle the finances and property while the case is pending.
Richard Coffee is a Litigation Manager in the Belleville Illinois office of Cordell & Cordell. He is an experienced divorce attorney whose practice is devoted to domestic litigation. He is licensed in the State of Illinois and is admitted to practice law in the U.S. District Courts for Northern, Central and Southern Illinois.
Mr. Coffee has extensive domestic litigation trial experience representing clients in courts throughout Illinois on all aspects of domestic litigation, including the representation of clients who are current or retired military personnel with issues under the Soldiers and Sailors Civil Relief Act and the Uniformed Services Former Spouses’ Protection Act, clients involved in state court jurisdictional disputes due to the relocation of one or both parties from or to Illinois, and clients with government or private pension benefit valuation and division issues.