Sentry Life Insurance v. Chuchanis, 2013-CV-01591

CourtCourt of Common Pleas of Ohio
Writing for the CourtHON. CURT WERREN, Judge
PartiesSENTRY LIFE INSURANCE, Plaintiff, v. ANDREW CHUCHANIS, et al., Defendant(s)
Decision Date03 February 2014
Docket Number2013-CV-01591


ANDREW CHUCHANIS, et al., Defendant(s)

No. 2013-CV-01591

Court of Common Pleas of Ohio, Stark

February 3, 2014



This case involves a dispute about who is entitled to receive life insurance proceeds. Sentry Life Insurance Company has deposited the proceeds with the Court and been dismissed from the case. Both of the remaining parties have filed for Summary Judgment.


Sentry Life Insurance company (" Sentry") issued life insurance policy number 73-05927-71 (the " Policy") to Tracy Veach Lytle Brown (" Tracy") in 1991. In March, 2013, Tracy died, thus giving rise to a $100, 000 payout under the Policy. In June, 2013, because two different people claimed entitlement to the proceeds, Sentry filed an interpleader action, obtained approval to deposit the funds and deposited $102, 161.36 with the Court.

In 1991, at the time Sentry issued the Policy to Tracy, she selected Andrew Chuchanis (" Chuchanis") as the Policy's beneficiary and Christine Veach (" Veach") as the contingent beneficiary. In October 1998, seven years after obtaining the Policy, Tracy sent Sentry a letter indicating that she had gotten married, she had a name change, and she wanted to change her primary beneficiary from Chuchanis to her new husband, Richard Lytle. That same letter requested that Sentry send her confirmation of the changes.

Later that month, Sentry responded to Tracy's letter, in pertinent part, as follows: " Enclosed is the form that is needed to change the beneficiary designations on your life insurance policy." The letter enclosed a change of beneficiary form that required Tracy to list the name and address of her beneficiaries, sign in front of a witness who is not a beneficiary of the Policy, and provide the witness's signature. The Sentry letter and form were sent to Tracy at her then-current address--the same address where she received the quarterly premium invoices that she paid.

The Policy provision regarding change of beneficiaries reads as follows:

" Change of BeneficiaryYou may change the beneficiary during the insured's lifetime, The change requires satisfactory written notice to us. After we record it, the change is effective from the date you signed the notice. The insured does not have to be living at the time we record the change for it to be effective. We will not be responsible for any payment we make or other action we take before we record the change."

Tracy never completed the change of beneficiary form Sentry sent to her in October, 1998. Richard Lytle (the person Tracy named in her letter to Sentry) died in 2000. In 2001, Tracy married John Brown. Later that year, Tracy sent a request to change her name as a result of that marriage. In response, Sentry mailed Tracy another change of beneficiary form. This form was also sent to Tracy's then-current address. Again, Tracy did not respond.

On at least two occasions after the paperwork at issue in this case- once in 2009 and once in 2011- Tracy told her good friend that she still loved Chuchanis and that she intended him to have the Policy proceeds in the event of her death. (See Affidavit of Laliberte.)

After Tracy died, both Chuchanis and Veach sent letters to Sentry claiming entitlement to the Policy proceeds.

Standard of Review:

Summary judgment is appropriate where no genuine issues of material fact exist and the undisputed facts entitle the moving party to judgment as a matter of law. Civ. R. 56(C); Harless v. Willis Day Warehousing, Co., Inc., 54 Ohio St.2d 64, 375 N.E.2d 46 There mere existence of some factual disputes, if not material, will not defeat a motion for summary judgment. Buckeye Union Ins. Co. v. Consol, Stores Corp. (10th Dist. 1990), 68 Ohio App.3d 19, 22-23, 587 N.E.2d 391.

Law and Analysis

The parties do not dispute that the named beneficiary of the Policy is Chuchanis. The Policy's definition of " Beneficiary" reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

" Beneficiary- The beneficiary of this policy is named in the application."

Chuchanis was the party so-named. The parties do not dispute the fact that Sentry never recorded any beneficiary change.

Generally, there is a presumption that the named beneficiary of a life insurance policy has the right to recover proceeds upon the insured's death. See Papenhagen v. Estate of Papenhagen, 6th Dist. Lucas Cty. App. No. L-85-446, 1986 WL 13181 (Nov. 21, 1986), citing Ferguson v. Owens, 9 Ohio St.3d 223, 9 Ohio B. 565, 459 N.E.2d 1293 (1984). In a dispute over entitlement to life insurance proceeds, the person who is not the named beneficiary generally has the burden of establishing a right to the proceeds. See e.g. Cannon v. Hamilton, 174 Ohio St. 268, 189 N.E.2d 152 (1983). Thus, because Veach is not the named beneficiary, she has the burden of showing a right to the proceeds. In this case, Veach argues that her right is based on a validly executed change of beneficiary.

" Ordinarily, a change of beneficiary in a...

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