Tuesday, October 20, 2020

No. 394: Equitable Financial (f/k/a AXA Equitable)—An Update on the Reinstatement of Universal Life Policies

In No. 391 (September 30, 2020), I wrote about two individual federal court lawsuits against Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company (Equitable), which was formerly known as AXA Equitable Life Insurance Company, relating to the reinstatement of universal life insurance policies. Both lawsuits were filed by the same plaintiff. One of the cases is in New York and the other is in North Carolina. There is nothing new to report on the New York case. Here I provide an update on the North Carolina case and describe an amazing email from one of my readers.

The North Carolina Case
On October 8, 2020, Equitable filed three post-trial documents in the Wiener v. Equitable case in North Carolina: (1) motions to dismiss and for post-trial relief, (2) brief in support of motions to dismiss and for post-trial relief, and (3) consent motion to extend stay of judgment enforcement. It is anticipated that Wiener will oppose the motions, Equitable will reply to the opposition, and the judge will rule on the motions. The three documents are shown in their entirety in the complimentary package offered at the end of this post.

An Amazing Email
In response to No. 391, I received an amazing email from a reader. In it he reported an incident involving an Equitable universal life policy issued many years ago. My reader was not the writing agent, but became an advisor to the insured after the policy was issued. The policy was owned by a trust and had a face amount of more than $1 million. After the estate tax credit was increased, the insured decided he no longer needed the policy. In 2012, the insured transferred the policy to a child who planned to continue paying premiums.

In 2018, the insured called Equitable regarding the status of the policy. The insured was told the policy had lapsed. The insured was not told the lapse date at that time. The insured asked my reader what to do. My reader suggested that the insured (1) request in writing (by FedEx so delivery could be documented) a copy of the 60-day lapse pending letter, (2) copies of any correspondence from the USPS or any other service indicating that mail was returned as undeliverable or improperly addressed, and (3) copies of annual reports for 2017 and prior years. The insured sent the request by FedEx.

The following day, the insured received a letter from Equitable saying the policy lapsed in 2014. The letter said "in the interest of good customer service," Equitable was willing to reinstate the policy. The conditions were payment of a premium to cover two months of cost-of-insurance (COI) charges and the signing of a settlement agreement and release. The deadline for those steps was about 30 days after the communication was sent to the insured.

The communication from Equitable also included a copy of a 60-day lapse pending letter, a lapse notice, and a copy of the policy annual report for the preceding policy anniversary. The communication did not say these copies had previously been mailed to the insured.

Thus Equitable reinstated the policy without any evidence of insurability and without requiring payment of COI charges from the 2014 lapse date up to the 2018 reinstatement date. At the time of the reinstatement, the insured was more than 75 years old and the COIs were substantial.

General Observations
My reader and I surmise that Equitable drastically altered its reinstatement practices in an effort to avoid more individual lawsuits, or class action lawsuits, over its reinstatement practices. If our supposition is correct, universal life policyholders of Equitable, and perhaps universal life policyholders of other companies, owe a debt of gratitude to Wiener for his two lawsuits against Equitable, irrespective of the final results of those cases. My reader and I also realize there may be other explanations for Equitable's generosity in the case described in my reader's email.

Available Material
I am offering a complimentary 27-page package consisting of Equitable's three post-trial documents in the North Carolina case. Email jmbelth@gmail.com and ask for the October 2020 package about Wiener v. Equitable.