Divorce, Suicide, and Life Insurance
In a decision approved for publication on May 6 entitled Woylas v. Greenwood Tree Experts, Inc., the New Jersey Supreme Court upheld a claim by Christina Woylas against her former husband Timothy’s estate following his suicide.
By way of background, Timothy and Christina entered into a Marital Settlement Agreement upon their divorce which obligated Timothy to pay alimony and child support for twelve years secured by life insurance in the event of his premature death. Two years later, Timothy committed suicide which negated the life insurance company’s obligation under the policy’s suicide exception.
Christina proceeded to sue Timothy’s estate, claiming it is liable because Timothy had breached their Agreement. After the trial court and appellate court agreed with her position, the administratrix of the estate petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court, which also upheld the rulings. Since the amount of Timothy’s obligations exceeded the value of his estate, the Court ordered the entire proceeds of the estate to be turned over to Christina.
By being approved for publication, the decision assumes precedential value and guidance to lawyers in terms of drafting precise Marital Settlement Agreements to ameliorate such problems as described above.