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, in pertinent part, with respect to life insurance proceeds:
732.802 Killer not entitled to receive property or other benefits by reason of victim’s death:
(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.
(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.
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.