Q: My ex died in a car crash. Does my fifteen year-old daughter have a right to his life insurance, even though his same sex partner of nine years is the beneficiary? We are in Ohio, and I'm not sure what my rights might be. --RW via email
A: Bad news, I'm afraid. Children have no legal right to inherit from their parents.
Your ex-husband's life insurance policy goes the beneficiary he named. This would be true regardless of his beneficiary's gender, or age, or of their relationship. In fact, the named beneficiary of a life insurance policy doesn't even have to be a human being -- it could be a charitable institution, for example.
A life insurance policy is a contract between the insurance company and the person who pays the premium. It's protected by contract law -- and there is no stronger legal protection.
Whether or not your daughter gets anything is going to depend on whether or not her father left a will. If he did, and it doesn't name her, she gets nothing. It often shocks people to learn that the law lets you disinherit your children, but it's true -- and not just in Ohio.
The law doesn't let you disinherit your spouse -- but a former spouse has no inheritance rights.
It's a different story if there is no will. When a person dies without a will and without a surviving spouse, the state's intestacy law determines how his assets are divided. Most state intestacy laws -- including Ohio's -- would divide his assets among his surviving children.
But intestacy law only applies to property that can be left through a will -- and that doesn't include jointly owned property and accounts with named beneficiaries. An asset with a named beneficiary goes directly to that person. A jointly-owned asset automatically goes to the surviving owner.
You won't have trouble finding out if your ex left a will because a will is a public document. Besides, when a will is presented for probate, the decedent's next of kin must be notified. (Probate is the legal procedure in which a court validates a will.) If there's a will, your daughter will have to receive probate notification; and since she is a minor, you will be notified as her guardian.
If there isn't a will, and you have reason to believe that your ex owned assets in his name alone -- i.e., he owned assets that were not jointly owned and didn't have named beneficiaries -- your daughter has a legal claim to those assets. You can pursue that claim by asking the probate court in your county for an intestacy proceeding. That's the legal process in which an estate is distributed when there is no will.
Please send your questions to Lynn@LynnBrennersFamilyFinance.com. I'm sorry I can't respond personally to every email. Questions are only addressed online.