Wife Insurance

Who gets the life insurance money?

The basics of life insurance

You probably already know how life insurance works, but stay with me — I’ve got a graphic true story that drives the point home.

If you have a life insurance policy, your chosen beneficiary gets a tidy sum of cash when you die.  While you’re still alive, you can change your mind and pick someone else. Access your policy online and click — you’ve got a different beneficiary or beneficiaries depending on who you deem is most worthy today.

The intent is that you chose the person(s) who would be financially disadvantaged because they were dependent on your income during your life. So the beneficiary (= the person who benefits) is usually a spouse and/or kids.

Certain states require that you pick your current spouse as the beneficiary. You can skip them only if they agree in writing. “Honey, please sign here and I promise, you won’t get a penny from my life insurance policy when I kick the bucket.” What?

You also should name a “contingent” or back up beneficiary in case your first choice dies before you do and you forget to update your insurance policy.

True story

I interviewed Jill, a poised and self-confident stockbroker. You would never guess that she had major financial problems earlier in life.

Jill and Brian got married when they were young and broke.  Brian was in the military and had a life insurance policy.

According to Brian, his mother was the original beneficiary, but he changed it to Jill when they got married.

Jill was afraid that he would die in combat, but Brian always assured her, “don’t worry about things; if I die, you’ll get $100,000.”

It wasn’t a happy marriage. Brian cheated on her and was physically and emotionally abusive. After less than five years, Jill kicked him out and then she moved to another state where her sister lived.

A few weeks later, Brian was killed in a motorcycle accident.

Who do you think got all the life insurance money?

Brian’s mother.

Their marriage had tanked, but Jill was still Brian’s wife. They were not divorced or even legally separated.

Was Jill ever the beneficiary of Brian’s life insurance policy?

Or did he change it back to his mother after Jill fled?

She’ll never know.

Lessons learned

Do you have wife insurance (for you or your spouse)?

Keep your policy up to date if you get married, have kids, get divorced, experience other major life events, or just change your mind.

Just remember Jill and the motorcycle crash (boy do I love a good stock photo).

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Related posts:

You’re in a Coma: What are the Financial Consequences?
When You Die, You’re No Longer a Person

Image © iStock.com/Falcon76


  1. Just such a good idea to talk about everything before a person dies. But why are people so uncomfortable talking about death?

    In your story, I suppose that Brian had every right to change the beneficiary on his policy. But didn’t Jill have a right to know that? Or not?

    All I know is that when everything is seemingly spelled out and everyone involved thinks they know the details,weird stuff can happen. It did with my parents (which wasn’t a life insurance situation) and things got changed with the knowledge of only one of the siblings. So many emotions to deal with, in addition to the death.

    Wise words here, Valerie.

    • Valerie Rind says:


      You do raise lots of questions and there are no easy answers. Brian was entitled to pick whoever he wanted as the beneficiary. And it seems like an important detail that he should have shared with his wife.

      The bigger problem is one that many of my interviewees tell me — lying about finances. If Brian’s mom was the beneficiary all along but he placated Jill by telling her she would be taken care of, there are deeper issues than who got the cash.

      You also hit it on the head by pointing out that stuff happens when someone dies. Inheritance issues are a whole chapter in my book-in-progress.

      Thanks for asking the hard questions and for sharing your personal story.