I need to designate beneficiaries for a life insurance plan. I've designated my wife as the primary beneficiary and my children as contingent beneficiaries. My son is a firstborn and he has two sisters. Currently I have the distribution as a) son 50%; b) daughter 1 25%; c) daughter 2 50%.

I made the distributions this way based on my knowledge of Jewish law?

Then I found the following at http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0007_0_06494.html:

The firstborn takes a double portion only of the present and not of the contingent assets, i.e., only of the assets in the father's possession at the time of his death and not such as were due to come into his possession thereafter.

It would appear from this that Jewish law does not dictate how to handle a life insurance distribution, since it would be a considered a contingent asset.

Have I analyzed this situation correctly? I'm curious what others would do...

  • jbustamovej, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for this interesting question! I look forward to seeing you around. I recommend that you consult with your Rabbi for final advice regarding what to do in this situation, hopefully armed with useful background information from answers you'll receive here.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 9, 2011 at 22:55
  • Btw, I did find the sefer i spoke about below, but it was photocopied w/o the name and author. I received permission to photocopy it from the author, Rav Feivel Cohen via his brother Sam, if I remember correctly, but do not remember the name of the sefer. I am sure there are other similar sefarim out there.
    – YDK
    Mar 2, 2011 at 0:03

2 Answers 2


The default system (which, absent a will or any sentiments otherwise, halacha would apply upon the death of the father) is that daughters are supported from the estate until they are married. If there are funds beyond that available, they are divided among the sons. If there are X sons and none are the firstborn, the division is 1/X for each. If one son is firstborn, he receives 2/(X+1) and the others receive 1/(X+1). If there are only daughters, it's divided evenly between them.

So in your case, the son would receive all, however he would be obligated to support your daughters until they marry.

It appears (and this is just me talking, the above is the halacha whether what I say now is good or bad, and I can't claim this is the reason for the Torah's setup) that culturally, it was seen as giving women maximum privacy if they would be supported and not have to venture into business. Similarly, often the firstborn would be responsible for taking charge of the father's business, hence the double portion. The Talmud even says if the oldest son is working and supporting his younger brothers, he can deduct a suit from the shared funds as a business expense, "so that his words may be heard."

HOWEVER, one has every right to designate other divisions, with the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein of the opinion that completing a secular will is halachically effective in and of itself.

My understanding is that for easily the past hundred years (and I believe longer), the standard Ashkenazic practice has become to divide funds evenly between all children, regardless of gender or birth order. Most parents would hate to find that their last will and testament tore their children asunder, and this solution is least likely to do so.


j, whether your life insurance benefit is subject to the laws of inheritance depends on how your insurance is set up. If you have a simple term policy, the benefit would not be considered your money since you have no rights to it unless you die while you are still making payments. In other words, because "you" died,the insurance company will pay their own money to your beneficiaries. (However, it is considered part of your legal estate if you have an incident of ownership.) If you have a policy that contains an investment element (universal, whole life), that portion that you have rights to would be yours and subject to the laws of inheritance. See Shalom above.

There is a book-which I forgot the name, but I will find it and send you a comment-that circumvents the gender issues mentioned by Shalom by creating a huge monetary obligation to a 3rd party if the males do not abide by the wishes of the testator (creditors get paid before distribution of the estate).

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