On Air: Daniel Ruttenberg Discusses Hillman v. Maretta on Money Matters

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Major life events—marriages, birth of children and deaths—should make you re-consider and update your estate plan and change of beneficiary designations. SmolenPlevy Principal Daniel Ruttenberg recently appeared on TV’s Money Matters with Tom Spottiswood to discuss his role in tackling this very issue last year before the U.S. Supreme Court in Hillman v. Maretta. Ruttenberg considers this case a perfect example of how disregarding estate planning over time can gradually build from a minor headache into a full-blown nightmare.

Because laws are constantly being revised and estate planning requirements change as life events happen, it is crucial that documents are kept up-to-date. Ruttenberg emphasizes that estate planning is a process, not a project, therefore it is wise to review an estate plan every three years with a competent attorney.

Warren Hillman named his then-wife Judy Maretta as the beneficiary of his Federal Employees’ Group Life Insurance Act (FEGLIA). They later divorced and Hillman remarried, but failed to update his beneficiary designations. When he died, his widow Jacqueline Hillman sought to receive the benefits of the life insurance plan but was denied. Instead, his former spouse was paid in full as the designated beneficiary, and Hillman sued Maretta.

At the time Hillman sued Maretta, Virginia had a law that permitted the widow to sue the ex-wife to try to recover money in this type of situation.  However the FEGLIA specifically states that death benefits will be paid out to the designated beneficiaries. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that federal law preempts the state law, and permitting this type of lawsuit who in essence end-run the FEGLIA.Therefore, Hillman lost the appeal, even though her late husband intended her to have the insurance proceeds.

Watch the full Money Matters interview below to hear about Ruttenberg’s journey to the Supreme Court and learn how to best protect your assets during major life events.



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