The Insurable Interest Doctrine and Its Effect on Your Life Insurance Claim

It may seem surprising that life insurance claims are commonly denied, and for many different reasons.  Life insurance companies reportedly refuse payment on approximately 5,000 policies each year, although we believe this figure is much higher.  One interesting reason that life insurance claims can be denied involves the lack of an insurable interest.  According to the insurable interest doctrine, in most states an individual cannot take an insurance policy out on the life of another person without having a legally-recognized insurable interest in that person’s life.  In other words, one cannot insure the life of another unless he or she derives some benefit or advantage from the continuance of the insured’s life.  The law does not want to encourage the practice of “wagering” on the life of another.  Allowing an individual to procure a policy on someone’s life without requiring the existence of an insurable interest may open the door to crimes being committed against the insured person.

The rules setting forth what constitutes a sufficient relationship differ amongst the states.  Generally, states consider the insurable interest requirement to be satisfied by blood ties or other affection-based relationships.  In many states, a monetary tie such as a business partnership is sufficient to create an insurable interest.  The line drawn by the various state statutes remains fuzzy, to say the least.  The majority of courts have found that determining whether a relationship gives rise to a sufficient insurable interest is a fact issue, meaning it is determinable on a case-by-case basis.

Whether an insurable interest exists is relatively easy to determine in some relationships.  For example, a husband and wife will almost always be found to have an insurable interest in each other’s lives.  But what about an unmarried couple?  Or grandparents and grandchildren?  Even the relationship between parent and child is treated differently depending on the state where the policy is issued.  For example, Illinois courts have found that the blood tie alone can be insufficient and have, in some cases, required a showing of monetary interest in order to bolster the insurable interest.  In New York and Pennsylvania, on the other hand, the parent-child relationship alone establishes an insurable interest sufficient to take out a life policy.

To further complicate the insurable interest doctrine, courts have held that expiration of the contestable period for life insurance policies does not defeat a claim denial for lack of an insurable interest.  Typically, insurance companies have a 2-year period to challenge the validity of a policy.  The vast majority of jurisdictions have held, however, that a lack of insurable interest can be raised to challenge a policy’s validity at any time, even after the contestable period has passed.  In New York, an outlier state, life insurance companies cannot refuse payment on such a basis unless the challenge was raised within the contestable period, which begins to run on the policy’s date of issue.

The lack of uniformity with respect to what constitutes an insurable interest can cause a great deal of confusion for beneficiaries.  Without the assistance of an experienced life insurance attorney, a proper beneficiary may lose the right to collect against a policy based on an insurance company’s arbitrary determination that a sufficient insurable interest does not exist.  If your life insurance claim has been delayed or denied, you should speak to a life insurance lawyer about the facts specific to your case immediately.

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