In a recent Saskatchewan case, Love v. Love, 2011 SKQB 176 (CanLII), the question arose whether an email constituted a sufficient declaration to change the beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy.

In the case, an ex-wife applied for a declaration that she was the designated beneficiary of her deceased ex-husband’s group life insurance policy. The deceased and his ex-wife were divorced. They had executed a separation agreement in which no mention was made of the deceased’s life insurance policy. Following the divorce, the deceased emailed his insurer to advise that he wished to change the beneficiary of his insurance policy from his ex-wife to his adult son. The subject line of his email was “Change of Beneficiary” and the email stated “Due to my recent divorce I would like to change the beneficiary on my pension etc. (from my former wife to my son.) Can you provide me with what ever paper work is required and I will fill them out and return them to you. Thanks.”  The deceased was subsequently sent the change forms by the insurer. While the deceased partially completed the forms naming one of his three sons as the beneficiary, he did not sign or submit the change forms before his death.  The deceased died intestate. Following his death, both the deceased’s ex-wife and the son named in the partially completed change forms claimed the life insurance proceeds.  

The Court was required to consider whether the deceased’s email was a sufficient declaration within the meaning of s. 133(e) of the Saskatchewan Insurance Act (the “SIA”) to change the beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy. Section 133(e) defines the term “declaration” as follows:

“declaration” means an instrument signed by the insured:
(i)   with respect to which an endorsement is made on the policy; or
(ii)  that identifies the contract; or
(iii) that describes the insurance or insurance fund or a part thereof;
in which he designates, or alters or revokes the designation of, his personal representative or a beneficiary as one to whom or for whose benefit insurance money is to be payable;

Following the decision in Re Buckmeyer Estate, 2008 SKQB 141 (CanLII), the Court held that an email can be considered a document signed by the deceased and that an email can be a sufficient declaration to change the beneficiary designation in a life insurance policy where it meets all of the requirements in s. 133 of the SIA . However, the Court concluded that in the present case the deceased’s email was not a sufficient declaration on the basis that the insurance policy was not described sufficiently clearly and there was no clear direction with respect to new beneficiary. While the deceased’s email included reference to pension plan, no specific reference was made to his group life insurance policy. The Court stated that the use of term “etc.” did not broaden the email to include the life insurance. Additionally, the Court stated that there was no clear direction with respect to a new beneficiary – while the email refers to “his son” it does not name the son in question.  The Court, therefore, concluded that the requirements under s. 133(e) of the SIA were not met and the ex-wife remained the beneficiary.

Thanks for reading,

Saman M. Jaffery