Can you sue the I-864 sponsor after he dies?

Credit: Stuart Miles Fox v. Lincoln Financial Group is perhaps the first case to address obligations by an I-864 petitioner after his death. Docket No. A-0 (Sup. Crt. N.J. Feb. 24, 2015), available at (last visited May 26, 2015).

In Fox the I-864 petitioner purchased a life insurance policy in 1992, naming his first wife as the policy beneficiary. He later divorced and named his sister as the insurance policy beneficiary. The petitioner then remarried a Brazilian national in 2012 and signed a Form I-864 on her behalf.  Before the immigration petition was approved the petitioner died in an accident. No changes were made to the insurance policy.

The I-864 beneficiary brought a lawsuit against the petitioner's sister, seeking recovery against the life insurance policy. Most of the appellate opinion involved the issue of whether the petitioner's remarriage operated to change the insurance policy beneficiary by operation of law. (It did not). This issue was wholly a matter of New Jersey law, not involving the I-864.

Having lost that argument, the foreign national widow also argued that the I-864 created an ability for her to recover against the insurance policy. The court summarily dismissed this argument, due to the following language in the I-864 itself:

...if you die, your [e]state will not be required to take responsibility for [the beneficiary's] support after your death.

Thus, the court held,

the trial court correctly found that Michael was under no duty to support [the foreign national] or provide a life insurance policy for her, as such support obligation terminated upon his death pursuant to the express terms of the Form I-864 support affidavit.

This much is correct. Indeed, the regulations clearly state that the obligation of a sponsor (or joint sponsor) terminate upon the death of the sponsor. 8 CFR 213a.2(e)(2)(ii).

But it would not be correct to say (and this court did not) that the I-864 provides no way to seek recovery after the petitioner dies. The beneficiary could still have a claim against the petitioner's estate for support that was owed prior to the petitioner's death. Whether or not the beneficiary -as she tried to do in this case - could recovery from a life insurance policy naming a different beneficiary is another matter. But Fox should not be taken to mean that the I-864 automatically provides no remedy if the petitioner has died.