Divorce and Life Insurance in California

I was contacted today by a client whose father just died. It was a painful death and, even more sad, he is probably now rolling over in his grave to learn what I am typing. He never changed the beneficiary on his life insurance policy and it goes to… his ex-wife.

Ughhhh. I am happy to not know exactly what it’s like to get divorced but I have heard enough stories and I know of few people who would want their life insurance to go to their ex.

California does have probate code 5600 (quoted below for your information) which seemingly indicates the distribution to the ex-wife would be stopped. That is in part (a) but part (e) says that these rules are not applicable to life insurance.

A good reminder to all is check your life insurance, 401k, IRA, and other death beneficiary designations. Don’t let your ex get a cent… unless you really want them to of course.

For more information about California wills, trusts, probate a

SECTION 5600-5604

5600.  (a) Except as provided in subdivision (b), a nonprobate
transfer to the transferor's former spouse, in an instrument executed
by the transferor before or during the marriage, fails if, at the
time of the transferor's death, the former spouse is not the
transferor's surviving spouse as defined in Section 78, as a result
of the dissolution or annulment of the marriage. A judgment of legal
separation that does not terminate the status of husband and wife is
not a dissolution for purposes of this section.
   (b) Subdivision (a) does not cause a nonprobate transfer to fail
in any of the following cases:
   (1) The nonprobate transfer is not subject to revocation by the
transferor at the time of the transferor's death.
   (2) There is clear and convincing evidence that the transferor
intended to preserve the nonprobate transfer to the former spouse.
   (3) A court order that the nonprobate transfer be maintained on
behalf of the former spouse is in effect at the time of the
transferor's death.
   (c) Where a nonprobate transfer fails by operation of this
section, the instrument making the nonprobate transfer shall be
treated as it would if the former spouse failed to survive the
   (d) Nothing in this section affects the rights of a subsequent
purchaser or encumbrancer for value in good faith who relies on the
apparent failure of a nonprobate transfer under this section or who
lacks knowledge of the failure of a nonprobate transfer under this
   (e) As used in this section, "nonprobate transfer" means a
provision, other than a provision of a life insurance policy, of
either of the following types:
   (1) A provision of a type described in Section 5000.
   (2) A provision in an instrument that operates on death, other
than a will, conferring a power of appointment or naming a trustee.
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