EVANISA S. FOX, Plaintiff-Appellant,
LINCOLN FINANCIAL GROUP, Defendant, and MARY ELLEN SCARPONE, Defendant-Respondent
Submitted: January 28, 2015.
Approved for Publication February 24, 2015.
On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, General Equity Part, Morris County, Docket No. C-156-13.
Michael Patrick Carroll, attorney for appellant.
Fox Rothschild LLP, attorneys for respondent ( Benjamin R. Kurtis, on the brief).
Before Judges ALVAREZ, WAUGH, and Carroll. The opinion of the court was delivered by CARROLL, J.A.D.
[439 N.J.Super. 382] CARROLL, J.A.D.
This appeal involves competing claims to a life insurance policy (the policy) issued
by defendant Lincoln Financial Group (Lincoln) [439 N.J.Super. 383] to decedent, Michael G. Fox. Following Michael's death, his wife, plaintiff Evanisa Fox, and his sister, defendant Mary Ellen Scarpone, both sought to collect the policy proceeds. On February 6, 2014, the trial court dismissed Evanisa's complaint, effectively awarding the proceeds to Scarpone, who was the designated beneficiary under the policy. On appeal, Evanisa urges us to adopt a " bright-line" rule that marriage creates a " presumptive right" to a spouse's life insurance benefits, thereby revoking any contrary premarital beneficiary designation made by the deceased spouse. We reject Evanisa's broad public policy argument, and hold that her marriage to Michael, without more, is insufficient to defeat Scarpone's beneficiary status.
The facts are straightforward. Michael purchased the policy in 1992. Initially, he designated his then-wife, Gail, as primary beneficiary, and his brother, Kenneth, as contingent beneficiary. Michael and Gail subsequently divorced, and in 1996 Michael executed an insurance company form designating Scarpone as sole beneficiary. This change comported with the terms of the policy, which expressly provides:
Beneficiary -- At any time prior to the death of the Insured, the Owner may name or change a revocable beneficiary. . . . A change of the Owner or beneficiary must be made in writing. To be binding on the Company, the change must be signed by the Owner and any irrevocable beneficiary and must be filed at the Home Office.
Michael married Evanisa, a Brazilian national, on July 28, 2012. On September 26, 2012, Michael executed a Form I-130 petition to sponsor Evanisa's citizenship application. Along with the petition, [439 N.J.Super. 384] Michael executed a Form I-864 Affidavit of Support in which he agreed to support his wife at 125 percent of the poverty level. This support obligation expressly terminated upon Michael's death, and the I-864 form specifically informed him " Therefore, if you die, your [e]state will not be required to take responsibility for [Evanisa's] support after your death."
On November 9, 2012, before the citizenship petition was approved, Michael died in a work-related automobile accident. It is undisputed that, prior to his death, Michael did not submit a new change of beneficiary form to Lincoln, nor did he make any effort to designate Evanisa as beneficiary under the policy.
Evanisa filed this suit against Scarpone, the designated beneficiary, and Lincoln, as issuer of the ...