Va. widow argues case in U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – Few would argue there is anything more painful than losing a spouse, but having her husband’s life insurance policy paid to his ex-wife exacerbated the pain for a Fairfax County woman.

Jaqueline Hillman’s attorney will argue her case Monday before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Hillman’s husband, Warren, had failed to change the beneficiary of his federal life insurance policy after divorcing his ex-wife, according to Jacqueline Hillman’s attorney, Daniel Ruttenberg.

When Warren Hillman died, benefits to his Federal Employees Group Life Insurance policy were paid to his ex-wife, Judy Maretta.

“More often than not, the person who just died didn’t want the assets to go to the former spouse, they more likely wanted the assets to go to their family,” says Ruttenberg, of the SmolenPlevy law firm in Fairfax County.

Ruttenberg says his client’s tale should serve as a reminder to others.

“People are not updating their estate documents, and they really need to pay attention to it,” Ruttenberg says.

This will be Ruttenberg’s first argument before the high court. He says it’s understandable why people are slow to change the important assignments of death benefits.

“People go through a divorce, they’re exhausted. They’re beat up. They’re worn out. And they don’t necessarily dot all the ‘i’s because they don’t have to, right then and there. But then it gets forgotten.”

Jacqueline Hillman had sued to obtain the $125,000 payout, as Virginia law allows.

Eventually, the Virginia Supreme Court said federal law saw the ex-wife as the beneficiary, trumping state law.

In January 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the case.

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