This is an action in which plaintiffs Mildred Gerhard, the daughter and sole beneficiary under the will of decedent Herbert Carson Pollard, and Grace Ballistreri and Moses Davis, executors of the estate of Herbert Carson Pollard, whose letters testamentary issued in Baltimore County, Maryland, bring suit on a life insurance policy which the deceased had held with defendant Travelers Insurance Company. Declaration is sought that either Mildred Gerhard or, in the alternative, the deceased's estate is entitled to the policy proceeds.
Defendant California-Texas Corporation (Caltex) obtained a group disability and death benefit insurance policy from Travelers. The deceased, an employee of Caltex until 1959, was an insured under the group policy and, on September 20, 1951, while in Sumatra-Indonesia designated "Cornelia Meerbeek Pollard, wife" as his beneficiary by filing with Caltex a change of beneficiary form which provided: "And the
right is reserved to revoke this designation and subject to due notice to the Employer to nominate a new beneficiary."
Paragraph two of the "Provisions" in the policy provided the manner in which the named beneficiary could be changed. That paragraph reads as follows:
2. Change of beneficiary. Any employee insured hereunder may designate a new beneficiary at any time by filing with the employer a written request for such change on forms furnished by the company, but such change shall become effective only upon endorsement thereof by the Employer on the insurance record card at the office of the Employer where the records of the Employee's insurance under this policy are maintained.
Upon such endorsement, the change shall relate back to and take effect as of the date the Employee signed such request whether or not the Employee is living at the time of such endorsement but without prejudice to the Company on account of any payment made by it before such endorsement.
The certificate of insurance held by decedent, dated October 1, 1952, refers to the terms, conditions and provisions of the group life insurance policy covering employees of Caltex issued by Travelers and states that a sum determined in accordance with the "Plan of Insurance" in said policy is payable to "Cornelia M. Pollard, wife as beneficiary," and that "Payment of the amount of the Employee's insurance under said Policy shall be made to the beneficiary designated by the Employee * * *." On the reverse side, and under the heading "Beneficiaries," the certificate further provides:
Under the group policy the Employee has the right to change the beneficiary. If there be no beneficiary designated by the Employee or surviving at the death of the Employee, the group policy provides that payment shall be made as follows: To the wife or husband of the Employee, if living at the death of the Employee; if no wife or husband of the Employee be then living, to the surviving children of the Employee * * *.
However, the certificate itself does not set forth the manner in which a change of beneficiary is to be effectuated.
It is uncontroverted that the deceased never filed a written request to change beneficiary or a designation of beneficiary
according to the provision in the policy, other than the one of September 20, 1951. However, on October 8, 1964 the deceased obtained a divorce from Cornelia Pollard in Circuit Court No. 2 of Baltimore City, Maryland. The divorce decree incorporated a separation agreement entered into on June 23, 1964, wherein Cornelia Pollard waived any further rights in the property of the deceased, the pertinent part reading as follows:
3. Pending the final decree of the Court, neither party will interfere with the rights or privileges of the other, and neither party will claim any rights in the ownership or property of the other, and all claims to each other's property is [sic] expressly waived.
4. That the provisions of this stipulation shall be incorporated in any decree or order passed by the Court having jurisdiction of the matter.
It is clear there was no discussion of the insurance at the time of the divorce or at the time of the separation agreement, Mrs. Pollard, who was not represented by counsel, simply stating she was ...