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"Domestic partner" loses dispute over life insurance proceeds

When Thomas Blakeley died, he left a live-in fiancee, Sondra Billet, and three children.  He didn't designate a beneficiary on his Union Security Insurance Company life insurance policy, however, so his loved ones ended up paying lawyers to sort out who should receive the death benefit.  The policy provided that in the absence of a designated beneficiary, the policy should be paid to the spouse, then to the "domestic partner," then to the children, and finally to parents or an estate.  On the basis of this language, and by reference to a state statute defining a "domestic partner" as "one with whom another person maintains a household and an intimate relationship," the judge awarded the insurance  policy to Billet.

On appeal, however, Blakeley's kids pointed out that in another section of the Union Security Insurance plan, the plan used a very precise description of "domestic partner" to qualify for other insurance benefits:  a "domestic partner" must be in a committed relationship for six months, be age 18, be unmarried, be unrelated to the insured by blood, financially interdependent, six months away from other [health?] coverage, AND have executed a mutual power of attorney.  No one was aware of any power of attorney executed by the two cohabiting individuals, and on this basis, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the lower court's ruling.

If  Blakely ever read this section of the insurance plan (we're thinking the odds against that are about 100 to one) this decision is exactly right.   It seems unlikely, however, that most people would know, or think, that they must execute a power of attorney in order to make their "domestic partner" qualify for benefits.   On that basis, the court's decision probably represents the defeat of Blakely's intentions.  Nevertheless, unfortunately, the court didn't create this uncertainty, and the fault for failing to execute whatever may have been his intention (not to mention the expense of attempting to divine it) lies with the dead guy--not  the legal system.

Thompson O’Neil, P.C.
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Traverse City, Michigan 49684
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