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Bennett v. Allstate Insurance Company

December 30, 1998

JOSEPH BENNETT, AS ADMINISTRATOR AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF BENITA G. BENNETT PYATT, PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, VICTOR HATAMI, AND LARRY JACKSON PYATT, DEFENDANTS, AND ALLSTATE INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
VERA L. BETTIS, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Before Judges Stern *fn1 , Landau and Wecker.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Landau, J.A.D.

[9]    Argued December 2, 1998

On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County.

Third party defendant, Vera L. Bettis (Bettis), appeals from a grant of summary judgment awarding the proceeds of an Allstate life insurance policy to the estate of the insured, Benita Bennett Pyatt (decedent), who was murdered by her husband Larry Pyatt (Pyatt), the primary beneficiary, rather than to her as the named contingent beneficiary. We affirm.

On May 15, 1985, Pyatt and decedent entered into a contract for joint or reciprocal life insurance with Allstate Life Insurance Company (Allstate) that provided $50,000 death benefit on each life. Each named the other as primary beneficiary. Bettis, who is Pyatt's mother, was named as the contingent beneficiary for both Pyatt and decedent.

Pyatt and decedent were married on June 15, 1985 in Lakehurst, New Jersey. At the time of their marriage, the couple had one child, Larissa Pyatt, born October 3, 1984. Decedent also had a son, Keshon Jamal, from a previous relationship. Keshon was subsequently adopted by Pyatt and his last name was changed to Pyatt. Two more children, Marissa and Colin, were born after the marriage.

On or about October 1, 1991, decedent left the marital home with the children as a result of abuse by Pyatt. She obtained custody of the children and a restraining order against Pyatt from the Family Part, Ocean County, pursuant to the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act. Following entry of the restraining order, decedent moved with the four minor children to Lakewood.

On July 3, 1992, Pyatt went to decedent's residence in violation of the restraining order and stabbed her to death in the presence of the children. Pyatt was tried and convicted of murder. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and incarcerated.

Decedent's father, plaintiff Joseph Bennett (the administrator) was named administrator ad prosequendum of her estate. The estate's beneficiaries are the four Pyatt children, presently in the custody of decedent's parents in Virginia, pursuant to a Family Part order.

The administrator filed a verified complaint seeking award of the proceeds of decedent's life insurance policy to the estate. Allstate, Victor Hatami *fn2 and Pyatt were named as defendants.

Several amended complaints were filed. On July 3, 1996, Allstate filed its answer to the first amended verified complaint and named Bettis as the defendant in a third party complaint.

On December 20, 1996, Allstate was given leave to interplead and directed to deposit $47,988.01 with the Clerk of the Superior Court. A month after Bettis answered the third amended complaint, the motion Judge granted summary judgment in favor of the estate, disqualifying defendant Pyatt as primary beneficiary pursuant to N.J.S.A. 3B:7-3. *fn3

On February 25, 1997, Allstate paid the sum of $47,988.01 *fn4 to the Clerk of the court pursuant to the interpleader order. Bettis then filed her motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of the administrator's third amended complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, and the award of ...


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