Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Ex-Wife, Cut From Will, Still Entitled to Life Insurance Proceeds—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A woman who was cut from her ex-husband’s will was still entitled to the proceeds of his term life insurance policy, the First District Court of Appeal has held.
The opinion, penned by Justice Robert L. Dondero of Div. One, was filed Friday.
Three days before Jerome Norman Post died, he executed a codicil stating that he did not want his ex-wife, Angela Post, to inherit anything from him. A life insurance company sent a letter to the decedent’s sister, the administrator of the estate, asking for a court order giving direction as to whom it should pay.
Jerome Post’s sons from a previous marriage petitioned the San Mateo Superior Court for an order designating them the beneficiaries of that policy. Angela Post objected to the sons’ petition, as she was still listed as the beneficiary on the policy. After Judge John W. Runde granted the sons’ request, she appealed.
The appellate court reversed the order. As Dondero saw it, the probate court had no jurisdiction over the proceeds of the life insurance policy, explaining:
“In the present case, decedent’s estate has no interest in the proceeds of the Policy. Decedent merely had the right to designate to whom the Policy’s proceeds should be paid after his death.”
Dondero contrasted the property of an estate, over which a probate court has jurisdiction, with the life insurance proceeds, which pass by virtue of contract to the beneficiary and are not subject to the laws of succession.
Order Is Void
The jurist continued:
“Subject matter jurisdiction is the power of the court over a cause of action or to act in a particular way. The lack of subject matter jurisdiction means the entire absence of the power to hear or determine a case, i.e., an absence of authority over the subject matter….Because the probate court had no jurisdiction over the subject matter of the order, the order is void.”
The opinion notes that the decedent had no desire to leave the proceeds to his ex-wife. It quotes from the declaration of his estate attorney regarding the meeting she had with him three days before his death.
The attorney declared that at that meeting, her client was concerned he may have left some loose ends by failing to retitle all of his property or update all of his beneficiary designations. She said that although she helped him draft his handwritten codicil at that meeting, he died before she could draft instruments formally cutting off the ex-wife from all benefits.
No Other Assets
The only assets that he left other than the insurance policy had a value of $1,000. Dondero noted that such an amount was below the threshold requiring formal probate proceedings, which was a factor in the reversal of the order.
Quoting the California Supreme Court’s opinion in the 1966 case Estate of Baglione, Dondero explained:
“In the exercise of its legal and equitable powers…, a superior court sitting in probate that has jurisdiction over one aspect of a claim to certain property can determine all aspects of the claim.”
Here, because the probate court lacked jurisdiction even over the $1,000 of personal property, Runde had no power to hear or decide any part of the case, Dondero said.
The case is Estate of Post, 2018 S.O.S. 3217.
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