This question was presented by one of my new clients: Larry and Moe are business partners. There are reciprocal one million dollar life insurance policies naming each other as primary beneficiary and their spouses as contingent beneficiaries. Larry and Moe are feuding about their business. They get into a physical altercation which unfortunately results in Moe shooting Larry to death. Moe claims self-defense. The attorney general decides there is insufficient evidence to prosecute Moe for a crime. Moe files a claim with Larry’s insurance company.
Where Moe will not be charged with Larry’s murder, or any other crime, is there any reason why Moe should not get the life insurance proceeds under a policy that is paid to date? Florida has a statute known as the “slayer statute” that prohibits a person to benefit through inheritance, joint ownership, or insurance if the beneficiary “intentionally and unlawfully” caused the death. The standard of proof to show unlawful death is “the greater weight of evidence. ” Therefore, even if a person is not convicted of criminal activity beyond a reasonable doubt in a criminal proceeding, the person may still be excluded from benefitting from a death if a civil jury finds that a predominance of evidence indicates the person acting unlawfully and intentionally to cause the death.
My client asked me how to protect insurance proceeds if they were paid. There will be no proceeds to protect if the client is implicated in the death by a civil court. My client’s issue is similar to the O.J. case where a civil jury found O.J. liable following his criminal acquittal.
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