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Ask the Life Insurance Expert

My late husband designated a friend as a life insurance beneficiary. Can I contest it?

You need to get help from an attorney to determine whether you have a case. Life insurance companies don't have the authority to decide who is the rightful beneficiary when there is a dispute. Only the courts can make that determination. Life insurers then will do what the judge tells them.

Disputes usually center around life changes, such as marriage, divorce, remarriage and the birth of a child or an adoption. They also can occur when a policyholder changes a beneficiary at the end of life. Family members who are left out sometimes claim the new beneficiary took advantage of their loved one.

Keep in mind that disputing a life insurance beneficiary is difficult and costly. A life insurance policy is a contract. It's particularly hard to prove that someone commited fraud by coercing a policyholder to change a beneficiary.

In some instances these cases go to mediation or arbitration. There the parties work out an agreement to divide the proceeds among them.

Because disputes are challenging to settle, life insurance experts advise policyholders to review their policies regularly, communicate their wishes to loved ones and to have witnesses on hand when making changes that might be controversial.

For more, see Can you dispute a life insurance beneficiary?

Last updated: Sep. 26, 2012