Although decisions of the United States Supreme Court are not always relevant to Collaborative Law, mediation and domestic relations matters in New York, the Justices recently granted a unanimous decision in Hillman v. Maretta that affects divorce clients nationwide.
In a case involving a Virginia law and a Congressional statute about federal group life insurance, the Court issued an opinion that should be a wake-up call for ex-spouses everywhere. Once a marriage is dissolved, oftentimes follow-up financial details are forgotten or overlooked. In Hillman, the outcome was unfortunate for the subsequent/surviving spouse of the deceased: all of the federal life insurance proceeds were paid to the ex-wife since the husband never changed the beneficiary on his policy after their divorce.
While the case may be limited in scope to federal governmental plans, prior public- and private-sector cases in New York follow this same trend. Clients sometimes believe that once their Separation or Opting-Out Agreement is signed, nothing further needs to be done to implement the terms. Lo and behold, the Hillman law suit should be a timely reminder: thoroughly review all estate planning documents immediately after a divorce so your survivors do not encounter needless litigation and face the sad destiny of the present Mrs. Hillman.