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Allstate Life Insurance Co. v. Smith

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

September 15, 2017


         Appealed from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Docket Number 633, 783, Honorable Todd Hernandez, Judge.

          Judy Y. Barrasso Kristin L. Beckman New Orleans, LA, Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellee Allstate Life Insurance Company.

          Kenneth L. Riche Baton Rouge, LA, Counsel for Defendants-Appellants Thurman S. Offord, Sr., Kimberlee Katrina Offord, Kevin Edward Darr, and Kenneth John Darr.

          Roy K. Bums, Jr. LamM. Tran Covington, LA, Counsel for Defendant-Appellee Alfreda Smith.


          GUIDRY, J.

         The surviving spouse and children of the deceased insured appeal a judgment in a concursus proceeding awarding insurance benefits to the deceased's mother. Based on the record before us, we find error in the trial court's judgment, and accordingly, we vacate that judgment and remand this matter for further proceedings.


         In August 1997, Tanya Offord, then Tanya Darr, obtained a policy of life insurance from Allstate Life Insurance Company in which she named her two sons, Kevin and Kenneth Darr, and her then husband, Robert Darr, as beneficiaries under the policy. In January 2002, Tanya changed the primary beneficiary of the life insurance policy to Alfreda Smith, her mother. Then in February 2009, Tanya married Thurman Offord, Sr., [1] with whom she had one child, Kimberlee Katrina Offord, born in September 2006.

         Following her marriage to Thurman, Tanya submitted a change of beneficiary form to Allstate, wherein she listed Thurman and her three children as the primary beneficiaries of her life insurance policy. She further listed her mother as the sole contingent beneficiary and listed Thurman and her mother as the adult custodians to receive payment of any proceeds from the policy that might become payable to her children during their minority.

         In response to Tanya's beneficiary change request, Allstate sent a letter dated March 31, 2009, to Tanya at the address she listed on the beneficiary change form she submitted on March 28, 2009. In that letter, Allstate acknowledged receipt of Tanya's beneficiary change request, but informed her that the request could not be processed at that time because only one custodian per child could be named[2] and because she had signed the change form with a surname that was different from what the company had on file.[3] Thus, Allstate requested that Tanya "choose one custodian, and if [she wished], designate the second as successor custodian and resubmit the request." Allstate included a new beneficiary change request form with the letter for Tanya to complete and return. Tanya did not resubmit the change of beneficiary request form with the requested information.

         On May 2, 2014, Tanya died after suffering an ischemic stroke. Subsequently, Tanya's mother, Alfreda, submitted a claim to Allstate for the life insurance proceeds from the policy issued to Tanya. Upon becoming aware of competing claims for the proceeds, Allstate notified Alfreda in a letter dated July 2, 2014, of the following, in pertinent part:

Although you were provided claim forms to complete, we are now contacting you regarding your daughter's attempt to change the beneficiary designation from you to her husband and children. Once you have had an opportunity to review this information, please contact [the Allstate claims representative] to discuss further. If you agree that this was your daughter's intent, we will request that you sign a disclaimer acknowledging your agreement to the change of beneficiary.

         Failing to receive the requested acknowledgement from Alfreda, Allstate filed a petition to initiate concursus proceedings on September 25, 2014, wherein it named Alfreda, Thurman, and Tanya's three children[4] as defendants. Allstate then deposited the life insurance proceeds plus accrued interest in the registry of the court and requested that all persons having competing claims to the proceeds assert their claims contradictorily against all other parties with the court to determine the proper payee of the funds deposited.

         The named defendants filed answers to the petition asserting their respective claims to the deposited funds, and by agreement of the parties, on January 7, 2016, the matter was submitted to the trial court to decide the merits based on the memoranda of the parties and the documentary evidence introduced. After taking the matter under advisement, the trial court issued written reasons for judgment finding the following:

While the evidence suggests that Mrs. Offord may have desired or even had the intent to change the beneficiary on her life insurance policy when she submitted specific instructions and documents to Allstate on March 28, 2009, the evidence does not explain why she failed to respond to the request for clarification from Allstate in [its] letter to her dated March 31, 2009. Contractually, the policy's beneficiary designation never changed after Allstate accepted the change of beneficiary request from Mrs. Tanya Darr naming Alfreda S. Smith as the beneficiary in 2002. Allstate never accepted the change request from her in 2009 even though she made a written request to do so on March 28, 2009.
Who knows what the decedent's intent was after March 28, 2009 and there is no evidence to show that her desire or intent to make the changes remained after her receipt of the letter from Allstate on March 31, 2009 requesting clarification and attaching a new form for her to complete. Therefore, the evidence, and the inferences drawn therefrom, leads the court to reasonably conclude that she may have no longer desired to make the changes since the evidence shows that she took no action to perfect her desire to make the changes in the beneficiaries for the next five years until her death on May 2, 2014.

         In so finding, the trial court signed a written judgment on April 18, 2016, in favor of Alfreda, awarding her the sum of $151, 192.88, plus accumulated interest, from the funds deposited in the registry of the court. After the denial of their motion for new trial, Thurman and ...

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