Appeal, No. 190, March T., 1952, from decree of Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, July T., 1951, in Equity, No. 3196, in case of Jane Hundertmark v. Doris Hundertmark and Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. Decree reversed.
Michael Hahalyak, for appellant.
Harry M. Jones, for appellee.
Before Stern, Stearne, Jones, Bell, Chidsey and Musmanno, JJ.
OPINION BY MR. JUSTICE JONES
This suit in the nature of a bill of interpleader was instituted by the former wife of a decedent against his widow and an insurance company to determine which of the personal litigants was entitled to the proceeds of a certificate of insurance issued by the company on the life of the decedent. The insurance company paid the face value of the policy into the registry of the court and the case was proceeded with to final decree on stipulated facts.
Jane and Paul Hundertmark were married on June 1, 1925. During their marriage the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company issued a certificate of insurance on the life of Paul in which Jane was designated beneficiary. The insured reserved the right to change the beneficiary without the consent of the beneficiary. The policy remained in force and effect to the time of Paul's death on May 16, 1951. In 1948 Paul obtained an absolute divorce from Jane. Prior to the granting of the divorce, they had entered into a separation and property settlement agreement wherein Paul agreed "that the Metropolitan Life Insurance policy taken out on his life, the premiums of which are paid by him, which payments are deducted as a standard deduction by his employer, shall continue to be paid by him for and during his life, and that the beneficiary of said policy, his present wife, shall be made irrevocable, subject only to change in the event said parties should ever be
divorced and the wife should remarry." The insurance company was never informed of the agreement. Paul married the defendant, Doris Hundertmark, in 1949. Jane never remarried. On April 6, 1951, Paul revoked the designation of Jane and named Doris as beneficiary of the policy without any inducement by Doris. The case was heard below by a court en banc which entered a final decree awarding the proceeds of the insurance policy, less certain expenses, to Doris Hundertmark, the defendant; and the plaintiff appealed.
The learned court below erred in failing to give effect (as between the claimants to the fund) to the insured's contractual undertaking to constitute Jane Hundertmark the irrevocable beneficiary of his life insurance policy. Proper disposition of the controversy calls for application of the principle of law followed in Pennsylvania Railroad Company v. Wolfe, 203 Pa. 269, 52 A. 247, and The Supreme Lodge, Knights and Ladies of Honor v. Ulanowsky, 246 Pa. 591, 92 A. 711.
In the Wolfe case, supra, a member of a voluntary relief association had, by an antenuptial contract, agreed to designate his intended wife as the beneficiary under his certificate of membership in the association whereof his sister was the named beneficiary at the time of the antenuptial agreement. The member died without having effected the agreed-upon change of beneficiary either on the certificate or the records of the association. Both the widow and the sister claimed the pecuniary benefits of the certificate. The association paid the proceeds into court and the claimants interpleaded. In affirming a decree awarding the fund to the widow, this court, after pointing out that the relief association, having paid the money into court, was no longer ...