Beneficiaries - Change of beneficiaries - Statutory provisions

Bassi v. Bassi

Appeal by the defendant with respect to, in part, whether a clause in the deceased's will which stated that he disinherited the defendant from "any and all beneficiaries lists" was a "declaration" under the Insurance Act sufficient to revoke the defendant's designation as a beneficiary under the deceased's life insurance policy. According to the court, the test for a "declaration" under the Insurance Act is not a stringent one, but the revocation of an insurance designation must be clear. The court held that since the clause in the will did not identify or adequately describe the particular life insurance policy to which the revocation applied, it did not meet the requirements of a "declaration" under the Act. As a result, the defendant remained a beneificiary to the deceased's life insurance policy despite the deceased's wishes to the contrary indicated in his will.

[2013] B.C.J. No. 2170

2013 BCCA 422

British Columbia Court of Appeal

M.V. Newbury, D.F. Tysoe and C.E. Hinkson JJ.A.

October 3, 2013

The deceased, Mr. Bassi, listed his wife (the plaintiff) and his brother (the defendant) as equal beneficiaries under a life insurance policy. In his last will, which he executed after he applied for the life insurance policy, he included a provision that stated, "I DISINHERIT my brother . . . from any and all beneficiaries list (if any) That I might not be aware of", explaining that the defendant had failed to repay loans to him and as a result caused him much grief and unhappiness. After the death of Mr. Bassi, the plaintiff, the executrix of the deceased's estate, sued the defendant for his share of the death benefit monies that were paid out, alleging that the clause in the deceased's will effectively revoked the defendant's designation as a beneficiary to the life insurance policy. The plaintiff obtained default judgment when the defendant failed to file an appearance in the action. The defendant later applied to have the default judgment order set aside, arguing in part that the clause in the deceased's will was not sufficient to revoke the designation of the defendant as a beneficiary of the life insurance policy for the purposes of the Insurance Act. The Chambers judge disagreed and found that the wording of the clause in the will was sufficient to revoke the designation of the defendant as a beneficiary. The defendant appealed the Chambers judge's ruling.

The Court of Appeal allowed the defendant's appeal with respect to the revocation of the beneficiary designation. Section 48 of the Insurance Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 226, in force at the time [now similar provisions can be found at s. 59 of the Insurance Act, R.S.B.C. 2012, c. 1], provided in part that an insured could alter or revoke a designation of a beneficiary to his or her life insurance policy by making a declaration. Section 29 defined a declaration to mean an instrument signed by the insured (a) with respect to which an endorsement is made on the policy, (b) that identifies the contract, or (c) that describes the insurance or insurance fund or a part of it, in which the insured designates, or alters or revokes the designation of, the insured, the insured's personal representative or a beneficiary as one to whom or for whose benefit insurance money is to be payable.

The defendant argued on appeal that the clause in the deceased's will did not constitute a valid declaration pursuant to the Insurance Act because it did not specifically reference the life insurance contract. The plaintiff argued that the only "beneficiaries list" the deceased could have had in mind when preparing his will was the one on his application for life insurance. The Court of Appeal agreed with the defendant on this issue and held that since the clause in the deceased's will did not identify or adequately describe the life insurance policy, it failed to constitute a declaration for the purposes of the Insurance Act, and as a result, was not sufficient to revoke the designation of the defendant as a beneficiary to the deceased's life insurance policy.