The second civil chamber of the Court of Cassation, in a judgment delivered on March 10, 2022, returns to the issue of the designation or substitution of the beneficiary of a life insurance contract. This is a regular source of disputes due, in particular, to the use of vague terms – such as “heirs” or “rights holders” – in the wording of the beneficiary clause (R. Bigot and F. Gasnier, Assurance – life: the identification of the beneficiary designated under the term “heir”, ss Civ. 1DSept. 30, 2020, No. 19-11.187, Dalloz news, Nov. 4, 2020; D. 2020. 1953 ; Same. 2021. 1257, ob. J.-J. Lemouland and D. Noguero ; AJ family. 2020. 608, ob. H.Reol ), or even a canceled will intended to modify the beneficiary clause (R. Bigot and F. Gasnier, Beneficiary clause of life insurance modified by a canceled will and unsigned standard letters, ss Civ. 2andNov. 26, 2020, n° 18-22.563, Dalloz news, Dec. 22. 2020). In this case, the problem concerned more specifically the validity of this designation or substitution, and the formalism required in the matter. The Court of Cassation, seized again, three years later, in the same case (Civ. 2andJune 13, 2019, n° 18-14.954, Dalloz news, July 11. 2019, ob. R. Bigot; D. 2019. 1280 ; Same. 2020. 1205, ob. M. Bacache, D. Noguéro and P. Pierre ; RGDA Jul. 2019, p. 32, note L. Mayaux; JCP N 2019. 1276, note M. Robineau), takes a clear position on a sensitive subject, in a specific scenario of life insurance – in the presence of a will – under the visa of article L. 132-8 of the insurance code.
As a reminder, this text repeats article 63 of the law of July 13, 1930. It was amended by law no. 2007-1775 of December 17, 2007 (art. 10). It entered into force on December 19, 2008. Article L. 132-8 now provides that “ […] in the absence of designation of a beneficiary in the policy or in the absence of acceptance by the beneficiary, the contracting party has the right to designate a beneficiary or to substitute one beneficiary for another. This appointment or this substitution may only be made, on pain of nullity, with the agreement of the insured, when the latter is not the contracting party. This designation or this substitution can be carried out either by way of amendment to the contract, or by completing the formalities enacted by article 1690 of the civil code, or by testamentary way. […] “. It should be noted that, in its current version, “article L. 132-8 mentions the ‘contractor’ instead of the ‘subscriber’, which makes it possible to integrate the hypothesis of group insurance” (M. Robineau, “The validity of the beneficiary designation clause”, in J.-M. Do Carmo Silva and D. Krajeski, Major decisions in insurance law, pref. B. Beignier, LGDJ, Lextenso, 2022, p. 738 pages, spec. p. 739).
As for the beneficiary, he is the “creditor of the service promised by the insurer if the agreed risk materializes. Its designation is not required for the validity of the contract (C. insur., art. L. 132-8). […] The designation is free but some people cannot be designated as beneficiaries, due to a risk of capture. These are health professionals who treated the insured during his last illness (about a doctor who treated the insured, see Civ. 1DNov. 4, 2010, no. 07-21.303, Dalloz news, Nov. 16, 2010, obs. S. Lavric; D. 2010. 2648 ; Civil RTD. 2011. 163, ob. Mr. Grimaldi ). In addition, other people are deemed to be in conflict of interest with the insured (the guardian, the curator of the protected person, C. insur., art….