August 13, 1991
ESTATE OF JOHN R. BOWDEN, JR., APPELLANT
NANCY ALDRIDGE, APPELLEE
Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; Hon. Annice McBryde Wagner, Motions Judge
Ferren, Steadman and Schwelb, Associate Judges.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Steadman
This action was brought by appellant Estate of John R. Bowden, Jr., to determine the lawful beneficiary of life insurance benefits and the proceeds of an Individual Retirement Account ("IRA"). The trial court granted summary judgment to appellee Nancy Aldridge, the divorced former wife of the decedent, relying on Mayberry v. Kathan, 98 U.S. App. D.C. 54, 232 F.2d 54 (1956). We affirm.
Decedent John Bowden and appellee Nancy Aldridge were married in July of 1979. In 1983, Bowden purchased a group health insurance policy which contained life insurance coverage of $10,000. Bowden named Aldridge as the beneficiary. In April of 1984, Bowden opened an IRA and designated Aldridge as beneficiary in the event of his death. On November 19, 1984, the two separated. On January 31, 1985, they entered into a Separation and Property Settlement Agreement. They were divorced on June 17, 1986. On November 24, 1988, Bowden died intestate.
Bowden's estate filed a complaint seeking to impose a constructive trust on the insurance benefits, which had already been paid to Aldridge, and for a declaration of rights with respect to the IRA. The trial court, treating Aldridge's Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss as a motion for summary judgment, entered judgment for appellee. Noting that under Mayberry v. Kathan, 98 U.S. App. D.C. 54, 232 F.2d 54 (1956), a separation and property agreement does not divest a former spouse of her interest as a designated beneficiary absent "convincing evidence" that it was intended to deprive the named beneficiary of that interest, the trial court held that the Agreement did not meet this test. *fn1 We agree.
Appellant's argument to us, as to the trial court, is that the provisions in the Agreement in fact did constitute the convincing evidence of intent demanded by Mayberry or at least were sufficiently unclear to preclude summary judgment. *fn2 In Mayberry, the daughter of the decedent sought to recover from her father's former wife death benefits paid to her as the designated beneficiary under a collective bargaining agreement. The property agreement in question in Mayberry provided in part that:
Each of the parties hereto renounces and releases all right, title and interest which he or she now has or ever could have in the property, real and personal, of the other whether now owned or hereafter at any time acquired . . .
The agreement did not specifically address whether the decedent's ex-wife was renouncing her designation as beneficiary of death benefits. The court held that the former wife's right to the benefits was protected "unless there is convincing evidence that the property settlement was intended to divest her interest," and that it must "clearly appear from the agreement that in addition to the segregation of the property of the spouses it was intended to deprive either spouse of the right to take property under a will or an insurance contract of the other." Id. at 55-56 (citations omitted). *fn3 The court found that the agreement evinced no such intent and affirmed the trial court's judgment for the ex-wife.
Appellant characterizes the language in Mayberry as "brief and generalized" and contends that, in comparison, the separation agreement at issue is comprehensive in scope. Appellant cites us to Sorensen v. Nelson, 342 N.W.2d 477 (Iowa 1984), where the Iowa Supreme Court construed a stipulation, the stated intent of which was to make a "full, complete and final and permanent settlement of all [the parties'] property rights and interests," as terminating a former spouse's expectancy interest as the named life insurance beneficiary. If Sorensen were controlling, it might be dispositive in appellant's favor. However, in light of Mayberry, we must agree with the Dissent in Sorensen which would have allowed the former spouse to take as named beneficiary because, like here, "although the language in the present stipulation is sweeping, it is also general." Id. at 481.
As appellant concedes, "there is no specific reference to or disclaimer of Aldridge's status as designated beneficiary" of the life insurance benefits in the Agreement The Agreement does make reference to IRAs as a class in paragraphs ten and sixteen, *fn4 but these provisions focus on ownership rights in a property division upon divorce, make no express reference to any particular asset, and do not include a waiver of any contractual expectancy interests. *fn5 Such general statements as the parties relinquish any claim to, inter alia, "any other assets of the other" are no broader than that in Mayberry. In short, the Agreement may be comprehensive in its Disposition of a wide range of property holdings, claims, and obligations, but the trial court correctly held that it is not sufficient under Mayberry to reach expectancies of the type at issue here. *fn6