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PROVIDENT MUT. LIFE INS. CO. v. EHRLICH

December 18, 1973

PROVIDENT MUTUAL LIFE INSURANCE CO. OF PHILA.
v.
Selma EHRLICH and Shirley Ehrlich a/k/a Shirley Joan Ehrlich and Shirley Ehrlich a/k/a Shirley Joan Ehrlich, Executrix of the Estate of Edward W. Ehrlich, Dec'd


Weiner, District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINER

WEINER, District Judge.

Presented to this Court is an interpleader action filed by a life insurance company wherein the wife of the decedent insured, whom he divorced, and his wife, whom he subsequently married, each claim to be the beneficiary of the life insurance policy in question. The individual claimants in addition to asserting that they should be considered as the successful litigant in the interpleader action have also filed counterclaims wherein, in substance, each of them asserts that in the event that they are unsuccessful in the interpleader action the insurer, because of its improper behavior, remains liable to her. We turn now to the circumstances and facts which gave rise to these actions.

 On June 17, 1951 defendant Selma Ehrlich (Selma) married Dr. Edward W. Ehrlich. On December 9, 1962 the plaintiff, Provident Mutual Life Insurance Company of Philadelphia (Provident) issued a $25,000.00 life insurance policy to Dr. Ehrlich with Selma designated as the primary beneficiary. On October 5, 1966 Dr. Ehrlich and his wife separated. Dr. Ehrlich was next heard of in Nevada.

 Shortly after the separation, Selma instituted proceedings against her husband's property in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County pursuant to 48 P.S. § 132. On November 10, 1966 the state court issued its order *fn1" which essentially placed particularly described real estate owned by Dr. Ehrlich in receivership. It also authorized the receiver:

 
"To seize and take possession of all the property, assets and effects of the defendant not limited to [the described real estate]."

 Another provision of the order provided that:

 
"It is further decreed that the defendant, his agents, servants and employees and all other persons be and the same are hereby enjoined and restrained from selling, transferring, concealing, disposing of or in any manner interfering with any of the property of the defendant or taking possession of, or in any way interfering with any part thereof . . ."

 Dr. Ehrlich was never personally served with this order but he did have knowledge of it.

 Prior to the divorce, on November 23, 1966 Provident was furnished with a true and correct copy of the court order of November 10, 1966. On February 20, 1967 Dr. Ehrlich wrote to Provident requesting forms for change of beneficiary and instructing them to change the primary beneficiary on his life insurance from Selma Ehrlich to Shirley Ehrlich. He further directed that this letter would serve in lieu of an official change of beneficiary form until he could complete one. Provident refused its insured's request insisting that the court order prohibited them from so acting. In response, Dr. Ehrlich wrote back to Provident notifying them that if they could not change the beneficiary, they should permit the insurance to lapse. However, he still indicated his specific intention to continue the insurance, if he could change the beneficiary. Upon receipt of this correspondence from Dr. Ehrlich Provident notified Selma's counsel that all of her rights were protected and that she would be continued as the primary beneficiary. Counsel relayed this information to Selma and she took no further action regarding the insurance.

 Upon the death of Dr. Ehrlich in 1972, Selma, as the beneficiary whose name appeared on the insurance policy, claimed that she was entitled to the proceeds of the insurance policy. On the other hand, Shirley argued that she was the beneficiary of the policy and entitled to the proceeds because upon receipt of the deceased's direction to change the beneficiary, Provident had no choice but to accede to the directive. As a result of these conflicting claims Provident filed the interpleader action and deposited $25,630.26 into the registry of this Court.

 Shirley and Selma have each filed counterclaims. Shirley contends that if it is determined that Dr. Ehrlich did not do enough to install her as the beneficiary, it was due to Provident's improper conduct and misleading legal advice which would render Provident independently liable to Shirley.

 Selma reasons that there was a contract of insurance under which she was the named beneficiary. She asserts that due to the advice tendered by Provident she was lulled into a false sense of security and did not pursue this issue any further.

 The first issue presented to this Court is who is the legal beneficiary of the insurance policy? The policy permitted the insured to change ...


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