WISSNER V. WISSNER, 338 U. S. 655 (1950)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Wissner v. Wissner, 338 U.S. 655 (1950)

Wissner v. Wissner

No. 119

Argued December 6-7, 1949

Decided February 6, 1950

338 U.S. 655


An insured under a National Service Life Insurance policy, who was domiciled in California, as was his wife, designated his mother as principal beneficiary and his father as contingent beneficiary. Premiums on the policy were paid from the insured's Army pay. Since his death, the proceeds of the policy were being paid to his mother in monthly installments. The insured's widow brought suit in a California court, alleging that, under the state community property law, she was entitled to one-half the proceeds of the policy. The court gave judgment to the widow for one-half of the payments already received and required payment to her of one-half of all future payments immediately upon receipt thereof.


1. The judgment of the state court was invalid as in conflict with the National Service Life Insurance Act of 1940. Pp. 338 U. S. 656-660.

(a) Under 38 U.S.C. § 802(g), the proceeds of such a policy belong to the named beneficiary, and the judgment below would nullify the soldier's choice and frustrate the purpose of Congress. Pp. 338 U. S. 658-659.

(b) So far as it ordered diversion of future payments, the judgment contravenes the provision of 38 U.S.C. § 454a that payments to the named beneficiary

"shall be exempt from the claims of creditors, and shall not be liable to attachment, levy, or seizure by or under any legal or equitable process whatever, either before or after receipt by the beneficiary. . . ."

P. 338 U. S. 659.

(c) A different result is not required by decisions holding exemptions relating to pensions and veterans' relief inapplicable when alimony or the support of wife or children is in issue. Pp. 338 U. S. 659-660.

2. The National Service Life Insurance Act is a valid exercise of the congressional powers over national defense. Pp. 338 U. S. 660-661.

3. No issue under the Fifth Amendment is presented, because the Act precludes any claim by the widow of a "vested" right in the proceeds of the insurance. P. 338 U. S. 661.

89 Cal.App.2d 759, 201 P.2d 837, reversed.

Page 338 U. S. 656

In a suit in a California state court, by the widow of an insured under a National Service Life Insurance policy, to recover one-half the proceeds of the policy, the state court gave judgment for the plaintiff. The District Court of Appeal affirmed. 89 Cal.App.2d 759, 201 P.2d 837. The State Supreme Court denied a hearing. On appeal to this Court, reversed, p. 338 U. S. 661.

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