Downs v. Downs, Ky COA, Interpretation of Marital Settlement Agreement Re Life Insurance

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Downs v. Downs

At TC, Adult Child argued that per terms of Marital Settlement Agreement between his biological parents, a constructive trust should be imposed on deceased Dad’s life insurance proceeds. Adult Child appealed from TC’s order granting Summary Judgment to Stepmother.

Adult Child was born in 1981 and his biological parents divorced in 1989. Per the terms of the parents’ Marital Settlement Agreement, the parents were to maintain any life insurance policies with “the infant child named as beneficiary.” Dad remarried in 1990 and died in 2002. His three life insurance policies all listed his wife (Stepmother) as beneficiary. Adult Child petitioned TC for imposition of constructive trust of the life insurance proceeds. Stepmother moved for and was granted summary judgment.

Stepmother first argued that Adult Child’s action was time-barred by the statute of limitations as Adult Child was seeking enforcement of a contract, which has a 15 year limitation per KRS 413.090. However, CA noted that the fifteen year period does not begin until the breach of the contract occurs, and that, furthermore, KRS 413.170 extends the time limit for minors to fifteen years from the time that the age of majority is reached. Thus, under either approach, the action was not time-barred.

Stepmother next argued that the words “infant child” were not words of identification but rather limited the referenced requirements to the child’s infancy, and thus Dad was not required to keep Adult Child as beneficiary once he reached the age of majority. TC and CA agreed. CA noted that only ambiguous contracts can be interpreted with the use of extrinsic evidence, and that if a contract can be interpreted with only one reasonable interpretation, it is not ambiguous. CA found that, due to the use of the terms “infant child” and “child” throughout the Marital Settlement Agreement, the only reasonable interpretation was that the parents were to maintain any life insurance policies with the child during his minority. Thus, Dad was not required to list Adult Child as a beneficiary on any of his life insurance policies.

TC affirmed.

Digested by Michelle Eisenmenger Mapes, Diana L. Skaggs + Associates.