Life insurance policies have been a plot point in countless thrillers and true crime shows. We’ve all seen the classic whodunnit with a $1 million life insurance payout as the motive and the beneficiary as the prime suspect.
But, real life isn’t a true crime show. Slayer rules, also known as slayer statutes, keep anyone from benefiting from your life insurance policy if they’re even suspected of murdering or plotting to murder you. Here’s how the slayer rule works and when it does make sense for someone to own life insurance coverage on you.
What is the Slayer Rules?
According to Cornell Law School, the slayer rule says that a murderer cannot retain a property interest in the victim’s estate. It allows courts to act as if the murderer died before the victim and thereby disqualifies the murderer from receiving the property. This rule only applies if the killing is felonious and intentional.
Most states have laws that enforce the slayer rule. These statutes are designed to prevent the possibility that a person who commits a felonious and intentional murder from inheriting property from their victim’s estate. However, each state’s statutes may differ somewhat in specific provisions and factors to consider, such as whether there was an insanity defense, whether the killer would have been convicted of murder in a criminal case if prosecutors had brought such a case, or whether a slayer’s heirs should also be barred from receiving any proceeds from the victim’s estate.
State Slayer Laws Vary
While all states with a slayer’s statute bar the killer from receiving property interest from the victim’s estate, some states will also bar the slayer’s descendants from inheriting from the victim. Others will act as though the killer died before the victim and allow the killer’s descendants to receive the estate’s property. Finally, some states also take the additional step of prohibiting the murderer from serving in any fiduciary role. Examples of fiduciary roles include serving as:
- An executor of an estate
- A personal representative of the victim’s estate
- A trustee of a trust
- A guardian of a victim’s minor children
Some people feel that the slayer rules should be extended to include animal beneficiaries as well. An example of when this might be applied is a case where a woman leaves her entire estate to her favorite cat to ensure her cat would be financially cared for upon her death. When the cat dies, the estate will pass to her cousin. Suppose the cousin hastens the cat’s death to have access to her inheritance more quickly. Extending the slayer law might protect animals that inherit property. If the cousin intentionally murdered the cat, she would not benefit from the woman’s estate. Knowing this may keep the cousin from harming the cat. Also, depending on the state, if the cousin intentionally murdered the cat, it might also jeopardize whether the cousin’s children would inherit from the woman.
Because states have different slayer statutes, it is important to consult an experienced attorney in the appropriate jurisdiction. These cases can get very complicated depending on the murderer’s actions and intents.