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Congressionally created at the height of the Iraqi war, Traumatic Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (TSGLI) is a rider to Servicemembers’ Group Life Insurance (SGLI), a life insurance policy available to all military members. TSGLI covers medical expenses incurred by military members who have suffered a traumatic injury on or off-duty and whether located CONUS or OCONUS. Payments range from $25,000 to $100,000 depending on the severity of the injury.
In a recent case this law firm handled, a married couple was involved in a serious vehicular accident. The husband, a Soldier, suffered a traumatic brain injury and was deemed entitled to TSGLI benefits. The husband requires around-the-clock medical treatment, while the wife suffered significantly less serious injuries.
The wife filed for divorce after the accident. Lieser Skaff Alexander represented the husband. The wife listed $100,000.00 in TSGLI benefits as a contingent marital asset on her financial affidavit. She wanted half of that amount should the husband receive it. The Tampa Circuit Court Judge denied her claim, ruling in a case of first impression that TSGLI benefits are not part of the marital estate and, therefore, not subject to equitable distribution.
Citing Ridgway v. Ridgway, 454 U.S. 46 (1981), the trial court determined it was federally pre-empted from interfering with this federal benefit. The court also held that the wife would be entitled to such benefits only if her husband died and she was listed as the SGLI beneficiary. Under federal law, the only time someone other than the military member can receive TSGLI benefits is if he or she survives seven full days after the traumatic injury, but then dies before all of the TSGLI benefits are paid. Under such circumstances, the balance of the TSGLI benefits is paid to the beneficiaries listed on the SGLI policy. Therefore, under the facts of this case, the court determined that, pre-emption aside, the wife was still not entitled to any portion of the husband’s future TSGLI benefits.
As legal counsel for the husband in this case, the military divorce attorneys at Lieser Skaff Alexander were thrilled to have obtained this important result for this deserving client and any servicemembers in the future who are faced with this issue. Our goal is to help all our clients, including military members, protect their rights and secure their future.
For a copy of the court’s ruling, please contact attorney, Jeff Lieser.