January 11, 2024
On September 5, 2016, Teresa James informed her husband of 13 years, Dr. James Rocconi, that she was leaving him. She filed for divorce three days later. Accordingly, on September 9 Dr. Rocconi changed his will to disinherit Teresa in favor of his three adult children. On October 17, 2016, Dr. Rocconi called Allianz Insurance Company to determine what, if any, insurance policies he had with them, and to remove Teresa if she was a beneficiary of any of them, because she had left him. The call was recorded, so we know that he told the representative “She could have told me that pope left the church and was getting married and I wouldn’t have been more shocked.”
The representative sent a change-of-beneficiary form via fax, which Dr. Rocconi filled out by hand and returned via fax the same day, removing Teresa as beneficiary. Apparently the insurance company did not record the change, but instead sent a letter to Dr. Rocconi stating that the form was incomplete without his signature. However, no evidence of such a letter was found among his papers.
After Dr. Rocconi’s death, the insurance company notified Teresa about the $300,000 death benefit. The children and the estate’s executor intervened, claiming that the Doctor had substantially complied with the requirements for changing the beneficiary. The lower court agreed, the Court of Appeals reversed, and the Supreme Court of Arkansas reversed again, reinstated the lower court’s decision. “Under Arkansas law, only substantial compliance with the insurance policy’s change-of-beneficiary procedures is required.” The completion of the faxed form, buttressed by the testimony of Rocconi’s lawyer and the recording of his conversations with the insurance company, are sufficient to meet that test.
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