Invalid Will Therefore Invalid Insurance Beneficiary Designation? Not Necessarily
An insured may designate a beneficiary of the proceeds of a policy of insurance. This can be done by a beneficiary designation that is signed by the insured. No other formality is required.
An insured may also designate a beneficiary of a policy of insurance in a will.
What happens, however, if the will is found to be invalid?
Section 192(1) of the Insurance Act provides that a designation in an instrument purporting to be a will is not ineffective by reason only of the fact that the instrument is invalid as a will.
This may be due to the different procedural requirements of due execution of a will, versus the minimal procedural requirements of the execution of a beneficiary designation. Thus, a document signed by the testator/insured but not witnessed by two witnesses may be ineffective as a will, but may be effective as a beneficiary designation.
Different considerations may apply where the will is found to be invalid on the basis of lack of testamentary capacity. If the testator/insured is found to be incapable of executing a will, it may follow that he/she is incapable of executing a beneficiary designation. However, the applicable burden of proof may lead to a finding that one is incapable of signing a will, but capable of signing a beneficiary designation. In Fawson Estate v. Deveau, 2016 NSCA 39 (CanLII), the Court of Appeal was faced with a case where a will executed on April 23, 2004 was found to be invalid. The estate trustee then moved for summary judgment in a separate proceeding brought to declare beneficiary designations executed shortly before and after the execution of the Will invalid. The motion for summary judgment was dismissed, as the judge found that there was a genuine issue for trial. The Nova Scotia Court of Appeal agreed.
In dismissing the appeal, the Court of Appeal referred to the different burdens of proof. In the will challenge, the burden was on the will challenger to show suspicious circumstances. The burden then shifted to the propounder to show that the testator had testamentary capacity. In the challenge to the beneficiary designations, the burden was said to be on the challenger, throughout, to show that the insured did not have capacity to execute the beneficiary designations.
In a case of undue influence, a will found to be invalid due to undue influence may not necessarily mean that the insurance beneficiary designations were the result of undue influence: a separate analysis is required.
In conclusion, when considering rights and remedies in the face of a potentially invalid will, do not immediately assume that an invalid will means that insurance beneficiary designations contained in the will are invalid as well. A deeper analysis of the reason for the invalidity is necessary.
Thank you for reading.