HAMLIN, Circuit Judge.
One Cecil Sears, now deceased, was an employee of the Internal Revenue Service of the United States. As a federal employee he was covered by a life insurance policy made available to him through the Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Act, 5 U.S.C.A. § 2091 et seq. The question presented in this case is to whom shall the proceeds of this policy be paid.
Robert Sears and LaVonne Stern, appellants herein, are the children of the deceased, and they claim that they are entitled to the life insurance proceeds because they contend that no valid designation of beneficiary was made in accordance
The proceeds of the policy have been deposited by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company into the registry of the court, and the insurance company is no longer a party to the litigation.
The district court found that the proceeds of the policy should be paid to Karen Austin, and appellants have filed a timely appeal from that decision. Jurisdiction in the district court was based on 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332, and this court has jurisdiction of the appeal under the provisions of 28 U.S.C.A. § 1291.
The decedent retired on October 31, 1956, without having made a written designation of beneficiary as provided in the policy. As is usual with federal employees, he had not been furnished with a copy of the policy itself but had been furnished with a Federal Employees' Group Life Insurance Retired Employee's Certificate which consisted of one printed sheet. This certificate explains in general terms the rights and benefits to which the holder is entitled. Upon the reverse side of the certificate under the heading "Who Receives Your Insurance Benefits?" the following is printed:
Portions of 5 U.S.C.A. § 2093, relating to the payment of claims under group life insurance policies, and portions of Section 11 of Cecil Sears' policy are set forth in a footnote.
Cecil Sears died on August 8, 1958, and his will was probated in the California courts. Appellants have made no objection to the validity of the will, nor did they file any will contest of any kind. The sole question on this appeal is whether the designation of Karen Austin made by Cecil Sears in his will is sufficient to entitle her to the proceeds of the policy.
The district court found that the decedent intended that the appellee have the proceeds of the policy and made the following statement:
It is the correctness of this decision that is attacked on this appeal. The appellants argue that the designation is not effective, regardless of intent, if the provisions of the policy are not complied
Our attention has not been called to any Court of Appeals decision construing the provisions of 5 U.S.C.A. § 2093, a relatively new statute. A district court decision, Smith v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., D.C.N.D.Cal. 1956, 142 F.Supp. 320, 322, held that the controlling factor is the intent of the insured, not compliance with formal requirements.
Courts of Appeal have many times passed on situations similar to that presented by the case at bar where National Life Insurance policies were involved. Attempts to change a beneficiary have repeatedly been held effective even though the technical requirements set forth in the policies, and the statutes setting up the insurance plan, have not been complied with.
In United States v. Pahmer, 2 Cir., 1956, 238 F.2d 431, 433, certiorari denied, 1957, 352 U.S. 1026, 77 S.Ct. 592, 1 L.Ed.2d 597, the court, discussing a purported change of beneficiary in a National Life Insurance policy, said:
We feel that the provisions of this policy setting up the method by which a beneficiary may be designated or changed are for the protection of the insurer, and we do not feel that the technical provisions are placed in the policy to protect the insured against hasty or impetuous action. In the case now before this court, the insurer is no longer a party, and the battle is between possible beneficiaries. Since this is the case, there is no reason to invoke technical provisions designed to protect an insurer against the possibility of double payment. We feel that the clearly manifested intent of the insured should control, and we feel that the federal cases clearly support this position.
The appellants are in error when they assert that Erie R. R. v. Tompkins, 1938, 304 U.S. 64, 58 S.Ct. 817, 82 L.Ed. 1188, directs this court to apply California law to the case at bar. The insurance policy in question was made available to the federal employee by federal legislation. The decision of this case depends on the construction to be given that legislation. This is a question of federal law not of state law. In the situation here presented it would be unwise to assume that Congress, which has the power to say what law is to govern, intended that the federal courts look to the state law to determine what acts are necessary to change a beneficiary.
The appellants have cited some cases where the federal courts have looked to state law to determine the meaning of the word "child" as used in a federal statute. Grove v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 4 Cir., 1959, 271 F.2d 918; Brantley v. Skeens, 1959, 105 U.S.App. D.C. 246, 266 F.2d 447. The reason for resorting to state law in some instances where Congress has not explicitly developed an independent body of federal law is succinctly set forth in DeSylva v. Ballentine, 1956, 351 U.S. 570, 580, 76 S.Ct. 974, 980, 100 L. Ed. 1415:
It is reasonable to look to state law in a situation where there is a well developed body of state law and no federal law, as is the situation with regard to domestic relations; and the courts have consistently found that this was what Congress intended. However, an entirely different matter is presented by the case now before this court. The construction of the federal statute is, in the first instance, a federal question. There is no well developed body of state law on the issue here presented, nor is there any overwhelming state interest that would suggest that here Congress intended that the courts look to the various states for the procedural rules to be applied in naming beneficiaries in federal insurance policies. In the interest of uniformity it is much better that the federal courts here develop a separate body of law rather than look to state law — and fifty different interpretations. See also Reconstruction Finance Corp. v. Beaver County, 1946, 328 U.S. 204, 66 S.Ct. 992, 90 L.Ed. 1172; United States v. Cambridge Loan & Building Co., 1928, 278 U.S. 55, 49 S.Ct. 39, 73 L.Ed. 180; LaBove v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 3 Cir., 1959, 264 F.2d 233; Tatum v. Tatum, 9 Cir., 1957, 241 F.2d 401.
In the second place, the facts of the Cook case, as outlined below, did not make a very compelling situation for allowing a waiver of the policy provisions.
When the policy in Cook was originally issued the named beneficiary was Horatio Nelson Cook, son of the insured. The insured subsequently remarried, having been divorced from his
The California Supreme Court held that the provision of the will was not effective to change the beneficiary to Horatio, as trustee. In so deciding the court categorically stated that "no expression in the insured's will purporting to assign his life insurance policy or change the beneficiary can be effective." However, the court also mentioned the fact that the insured had once before changed the beneficiary and had at that time complied with the terms of the policy. The court also recognized that there are occasions when an insured may change beneficiaries without compliance with the strict terms of the policy.
Thus the court in Cook was faced with a situation where the deceased had previously made a change of beneficiary complying completely with the terms of the policy and where the will that purportedly made the change erroneously referred to Horatio as the present owner. Even if the California courts would still hold, if presented with a private insurance situation similar to this case, that a beneficiary cannot be changed by will, we are not bound in this case by California law; and we choose to follow the more liberal provisions of the federal law as outlined by the cases cited above.
In the case now before this court the deceased had made no previous designation of beneficiary, and the finding of the trial judge that the deceased intended to make Karen Austin the beneficiary of the policy is amply supported by the evidence. The fact that he did not make his original designation in the exact manner set forth in the policy, should not prevent his definite intention, manifested by the affirmative act of drawing up a will, from being given effect.
The judgment of the district court is affirmed.
"If, at the death of the Employee, there be no designated Beneficiary * * * then the amount of the insurance * * * shall be payable to the person or persons listed below surviving at the date of the Employee's death, in the following order of precedence:
(1) To the widow or widower of the Employee;
(2) If neither of the above, to the child or children of such Employee and descendants of deceased children by representation * * *."
First, to the beneficiary or beneficiaries as the employee may have designated by a writing received in the employing office prior to death;
Second, if there be no such beneficiary, to the widow or widower of such employee;
Third, if none of the above, to the child or children of such employee and descendants of deceased children by representation * * *."
"Section 11. Beneficiaries. — Any Employee insured hereunder may designate a Beneficiary and may, from time to time, change his designation of beneficiary, only by filing written notice thereof, signed and witnessed, with his employing office or in the case of (1) a retired Employee and (2) an Employee whose Life Insurance hereunder is continued while he is in receipt of benefits under the Federal Employees' Compensation Act, with the Policy-holder, whereupon an acknowledgment of such designation or change will be furnished the Employee. Consent of the Beneficiary shall not be requisite to any change of beneficiary. A witness to a designation or change of beneficiary shall be ineligible to receive payment as a Beneficiary. A designation or change of beneficiary shall take effect only if it is received by the appropriate office prior to the death of the Employee and shall be effective as of the date of receipt of said written notice. * * *
"If, at the death of the Employee, there be no designated Beneficiary as to all or any part of the insurance, then the amount of the insurance payable for which there is no designated Beneficiary shall be payable to the person or persons listed below surviving at the date of the Employee's death, in the following order of precedence:
(1) To the widow or widower of the Employee;
(2) If neither of the above, to the child or children of such Employee and descendants of deceased children by representations; * * *".