Florida Statute 732.802
Beneficiaries of a life insurance policy and similar nonprobate assets are meant to inherit those benefits upon a policyholder’s death. What happens, however, if a beneficiary named in the policy commits murder in order to expedite the process and receive benefits immediately?
Florida law weighs in on this issue by way of Section 732.802 of the Florida Statutes, which is commonly referred to as the “The Slayer Statute.”
What is the Slayer Statute?
In simplest terms, Section 732.802 prevents a killer from receiving benefits of their victim, whether those benefits were passed to the killer by will or under the Florida Probate Code. Section 732.802(3) also makes clear that this general principle applies to a named beneficiary of a life insurance policy who “unlawfully and intentionally kills” the policyholder.
In such an instance, the named beneficiary would not be allowed to receive a benefit from the life insurance policy. Instead, Florida law views the killer as if they passed away before the decedent policyholder who was murdered.
When the facts of both the murder and beneficiaries involved are simple, the statute is usually applied in an intuitive and straightforward manner. Suppose a spouse is the sole beneficiary of a life insurance policy and he or she murders their spouse. Florida law would simply treat the murdering spouse as though their death occurred prior to the murdered policyholder spouse’s death, preventing the killer from obtaining benefits.
However, the fact pattern can become complicated when a murderer’s children or additional beneficiaries are involved.
Florida Case Law Reveals the Slayer Statute Is Interpreted Strictly
In the case of Fiel v. Hoffman, 169 So.3d 1274 (Fla. 4th DCA 2015), a Florida wife was convicted of murdering her wealthy husband. Further, the wife was also responsible for the murder of her husband’s mother.
The convicted killer also had two sons from the marriage who were named as beneficiaries of the murdered husband’s will if the husband’s mother and wife (the killer) did not survive the husband. The convicted wife killed the mother, and strict interpretation of Florida’s Slayer Statute requires that the convicted killer also must be treated as if she did not survive the murdered husband.
In simplest terms, then, this means that the murder ensured that the killer’s sons could now inherit under the murdered husband’s will. Naturally, the dead husband’s family objected to the killer’s children benefiting from the murder.
Florida’s appellate court, however, said that the statute disinherits only the slayer herself and anyone else who participated in the killing. Since the children did not participate in the murder in any way, Florida’s statute could not be construed to disinherit the murderer’s children.
This case helpfully outlines the limitations of Section 732.802. While surviving loved ones will no doubt object to a murderer’s relatives benefiting from murderous deeds, the strict interpretation of the statute makes this unfortunate outcome a distinct possibility.
Other Limitations of Section 732.802
Section 732.802 also requires intent for killing or participating in the decedent’s passing. Effectively, for someone who is found to be insane, the intent element would not be met. This makes it a legal possibility for an insane killer to benefit from a victim’s life insurance policy.
Similarly, if a beneficiary kills a policyholder, did not have the intent to kill the policyholder but accidentally did so, they may be found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. This Florida legal principle was made clear in Congleton v. Sansom, 664 So.2d 276 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1995).
An involuntary manslaughter conviction, because it lacks intent, does not necessarily mean that a killer will not be allowed to inherit from the decedent’s estate. However, a killer convicted of involuntary manslaughter may be prevented from inheriting if it can be proven that the Slayer Statute was violated based on a preponderance of the evidence.
These limitations coupled with the strict interpretation of the Slayer Statute collectively demonstrate the legal uncertainty involved when fact patterns grow complex.
You can reach Miami Insurance Claims Lawyer J.P. Gonzalez-Sirgo by dialing his direct number at (786) 272-5841, calling the main office at (305) 461-1095, or Toll Free at 1 (866) 71-CLAIM or email Attorney Gonzalez-Sirgo directly at [email protected].