Under Florida law, if a beneficiary of a life insurance policy is under investigation for the murder of the insured or has been charged with the murder of the insured, the life insurance company often will not pay the death benefits until issues related to the beneficiary’s alleged involvement in the murder are resolved. Florida’s “Slayer” Statute provides as follows:
732.802 Killer not entitled to receive property or other benefits by reason of victim’s death.—
(1) A surviving person who unlawfully and intentionally kills or participates in procuring the death of the decedent is not entitled to any benefits under the will or under the Florida Probate Code, and the estate of the decedent passes as if the killer had predeceased the decedent. Property appointed by the will of the decedent to or for the benefit of the killer passes as if the killer had predeceased the decedent.
(2) Any joint tenant who unlawfully and intentionally kills another joint tenant thereby effects a severance of the interest of the decedent so that the share of the decedent passes as the decedent’s property and the killer has no rights by survivorship. This provision applies to joint tenancies with right of survivorship and tenancies by the entirety in real and personal property; joint and multiple-party accounts in banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, and other institutions; and any other form of coownership with survivorship incidents.
(3) A named beneficiary of a bond, life insurance policy, or other contractual arrangement who unlawfully and intentionally kills the principal obligee or the person upon whose life the policy is issued is not entitled to any benefit under the bond, policy, or other contractual arrangement; and it becomes payable as though the killer had predeceased the decedent.
(4) Any other acquisition of property or interest by the killer, including a life estate in homestead property, shall be treated in accordance with the principles of this section.
(5) A final judgment of conviction of murder in any degree is conclusive for purposes of this section. In the absence of a conviction of murder in any degree, the court may determine by the greater weight of the evidence whether the killing was unlawful and intentional for purposes of this section.
(6) This section does not affect the rights of any person who, before rights under this section have been adjudicated, purchases from the killer for value and without notice property which the killer would have acquired except for this section, but the killer is liable for the amount of the proceeds or the value of the property. Any insurance company, bank, or other obligor making payment according to the terms of its policy or obligation is not liable by reason of this section unless prior to payment it has received at its home office or principal address written notice of a claim under this section.
Importantly, in a dispute over life insurance proceeds, the burden of proof necessary to show that a beneficiary unlawfully and intentionally killed the insured is not beyond a reasonable doubt, as in a criminal proceeding. Rather, the court or jury need only determine by the greater weight of the evidence (sometimes referred to as the 50% plus one standard) that the killing was unlawful and intentional in order to find that a beneficiary alleged to have murdered the insured is disqualified from receiving life insurance benefits. This may lead to a situation where a beneficiary may be disqualified from receiving benefits even though he or she is not actually convicted of murdering the insured. If a beneficiary is disqualified from receiving benefits under Florida’s “Slayer” Statute, then the proceeds originally designated to go to that beneficiary will typically go to the next eligible primary or contingent beneficiary, depending on the circumstances.
Joel Ewusiak represents beneficiaries of life insurance policies who are seeking their rightful share of proceeds and named as defendants in a Complaint for Interpleader. Please contact Joel for legal assistance with your specific dispute.