Beneficiary Designations Left Unchanged Are Not Changed

April 6, 2011 Hull & Hull LLP Estate & Trust Tags: , , , 0 Comments

In Chanowski v. Bauer, the Manitoba Court of Appeal recently revisited the recurring dilemma posed when the uncompromising law of insurance beneficiary designations runs up against facts that may seem to call for an equitable remedy.

The deceased had a group life insurance policy in the amount of $55,000, which he held through his employer.  When he lived with his first common-law wife (on and off for a period of four years), he executed documents listing her as his beneficiary.  However, at the time of his death, he had a different common-law wife.  Notwithstanding these facts: (i) the deceased had not had any relations whatsoever with the first spouse for some thirteen years, (ii) the first spouse had remarried, and (iii) the deceased had held his house and all assets jointly with the second spouse with whom he had lived for ten years, the Trial Judge found that the first spouse nonetheless received the benefit of the deceased’s group life insurance. The second spouse appealed this finding and lost on appeal.

The Appellant’s counsel gamely tried every available argument but did not succeed.  The Court of Appeal "while having much sympathy" for the Appellant, determined that it was bound by Manitoba’s statute (virtually identical to Ontario’s) and found as follows:

"The documents which Ms Chanowski would have the court accept as evidence of a change of beneficiary do not provide the necessary clear and express intention to remove Ms Bauer and appoint Ms Chanowski as his beneficiary.  They merely speak to Mr. Miterek’s intention to increase the amount of his death benefits and to insure the life of his current common-law wife.  One may speculate that it is unusual for an individual to increase the death benefits for a former common-law spouse, but more is needed here than speculation to override a written designation (emphasis added).

David M. Smith – Click here for more information on David Smith.

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