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My mother in law named me as her beneficiary on her life Insurance policy. She lived with me for many years before passing. We are in the state of North Carolina . One of her sons has decided that he is entitled to a part of her policy.
I’m just wondering does he have any right to it

  • He cannot make you, but he can contest the beneficiaries. See this question: law.stackexchange.com/questions/27920/… – Pete B. Apr 24 '18 at 10:55
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    @PeteB. I'm not saying it can't be contested, but there's no actual evidence given in the answer to that question that you can. I'm sure some lawyer will always find something to contest, if there's enough money involved. – TripeHound Apr 24 '18 at 12:40
  • @TripeHound for the record, I upvoted your answer prior to writing my comment. I think it is a very good answer and I think it is a long, up hill battle to contest it. But it is possible. – Pete B. Apr 24 '18 at 13:02
  • @PeteB. I decided against mentioning a "generic" possibility to contest: partly because (in this specific case) it would be for the son to find a plausible reason, and partly because in America (or so it seems from this side of the pond :-) ) anyone can contest anything, if you're prepared to pay a lawyer enough! – TripeHound Apr 24 '18 at 13:36
  • I am not a lawyer and you would be well advised to consult one, since anyone can pay up a few bucks to file a lawsuit. However, the only restriction on beneficiaries I am aware of is that in Community Property states (NC is not), your spouse, if not the beneficiary, has to waive rights for some types of life insurance. I don't expect the suit to claim benefits as a matter of right, but as some sort of undue influence you exerted on a cognitively-impaired woman in her dotage. (Not saying it is true, but a possible line of attack.) – Andrew Lazarus Apr 24 '18 at 22:42
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I’m just wondering does he have any right to it?

Probably not, although I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice.

Across all jurisdictions I've checked (United Kingdom, Australia, South Africa and, specific to this question, The United States) the principal terms of a life insurrance policy are essentially the same: it is a contract between the policy holder (often also the life insured) and the insurance company to pay a sum of money to the beneficiary1 upon the death of the life insured. In all these locations, the benefits paid out are never "owned" by the person who has died and so are not part of their estate2, and therefore not covered either by their will (if there is one) nor the laws of intestate succession (if there is no will).

Since the benefits are not part of the estate, any laws that may be in place to challenge an "unfair" will should not come into play. Unless there are federal or state laws specific to this situation, it seems unlikely that the son has any claim on the benefits. Any such dispute would be between the son and the insurance company: it would not be a matter for the executor of the estate.


1 There can often be more than one beneficiary. You can often also name one or more contingent beneficiaries who will take the place of the main beneficiaries should they die before the person whose life is insured.

2 If no beneficiaries are named (or remain alive), then (in the locations I've checked) the benefits will go to the estate of the deceased, and become subject to any will that might have been made.

  • The benefit isn't typically owned by the deceased, although there's no reason why it can't be. The important thing to note is that if the policy is owned by the deceased, even though there is a beneficiary, the proceeds are part of the taxable estate. Which is why there is an estate planning industry built around guiding clients to make sure their affairs are set up properly. – JoeTaxpayer Nov 22 '18 at 15:19
  • @Joe According to Are life insurance payouts taxable? (part of the same site as linked in the answer) "money that’s paid out as a death benefit isn’t considered taxable income, which means the full payout as detailed in your policy goes to your spouse, children or other designated beneficiaries". There are situations that where it is added to the estate (if there is no beneficiary), and some situations where tax may be due ("Generation-skipping transfer tax") if the beneficiary isn't a close relative. – TripeHound Nov 22 '18 at 15:30
  • I don’t know how else to state this more clearly, if the policy is owned by the deceased, it is part of their taxable estate (for the estate tax, nothing else), even though the full value of the policy goes to the beneficiary tax free (not subject to federal or state tax). – JoeTaxpayer Nov 22 '18 at 15:54

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