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Challenge to estate central to complex divorce case

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a number of important cases in some upcoming sessions involving “preemption,” and these cases could change the way estate planning and divorce cases are handled in the future. Tulsa residents may not be aware of the cases, but they will prove crucial to the legal side of these topics.

Preemption is the idea that one law trumps another. For example, say some decision is made about a case because of a state law; but there is a federal law that contradicts the state law. Determining whether the federal law applies and “preempts” the state law is the idea of preemption.

One case highlights how import the SCOTUS decisions on preemption will be. The life insurance of a deceased man in Virginia is currently being controlled by his ex-wife; not the wife he had when he passed away. This is because when he got married to his first wife, he listed her as his primary beneficiary on a federal life insurance plan. They divorced two years later, and a few years after that the man married his second wife, who is now a widow.

The widow challenged the fact that the ex-wife got her husband’s life insurance, citing a Virginia law that gives the life insurance to the current spouse rather than an ex-spouse. That turned the tide in the widow’s favor, as a lower court upheld that law. But the ex-wife took the case to the Virginia Supreme Court, which reversed the decision. The case will now be heard by SCOTUS, to determine who gets the estate.

This story shows how important it is to stay current with the details and documents concerning your estate. When you file for divorce, make sure you change the beneficiaries on your estate, if that beneficiary is your soon-to-be-ex and you do not want him or her controlling your estate.