Slayer Statute cases are those where the life insurance beneficiary is accused of killing the insured. Most states, if not all, have laws on the books that prevent a life insurance beneficiary from collecting the insurance policy if he or she is responsible for the death of the insured.
A typical scenario is where one spouse kills the other spouse and tries to collect the life insurance.
This only makes sense. Otherwise, it makes murder a very lucrative enterprise. Certainly, we do not want our society to allow such wanton and despicable conduct.
I’m writing about this topic because I recently came across an article where a Nebraska man who spent two years in prison for killing his wife received half of the $150,000 life insurance proceeds.
My first thought, before finishing the article, was how did this happen?
The man, Patrick Cain, 61, told police that his wife’s death was an accident. They were both drinking heavily, got into an argument, and he pushed her down the stairs. However, of note, when the police arrived, they found her body stuffed inside a closet. To my mind, that shows a guilty state of mind, but at any rate, he pleaded no contest to manslaughter and spent two years in prison.
Nebraska law says that a person who “feloniously and intentionally” kills a spouse is not entitled to life insurance benefits. Cain argued that he didn’t intentionally kill his wife, and, in fact, the manslaughter charge provided that he killed his wife unintentionally while committing an unlawful act.
A suit was filed in federal court and Cain and his wife’s estate agreed to split the policy 50/50.
The case ultimately depended on Cain’s state of mind when he killed his wife. This is because the standard requires a felony, which manslaughter qualifies as, and in addition, an intentional killing–with intentionality going to state of mind. The estate’s lawyers no doubt saw a hurdle in trying to show that there was an intentional killing. It appears that Cain was the only person present at her death, making the task that much harder.
Many would consider this to be an unjust result. Under any circumstances, how could a man who pushes his wife down the stairs to her death collect her insurance policy? It doesn’t sound just to me. This shows how laws, even if well-drafted, sometimes do not fairly and justly apply to the facts of a case.
On the other hand, what is the alternative, because if the standard was loosened to encompass, say, any act that “involved the death of an insured,” we can foresee that an automobile driver who is 5% at fault for a car accident that results in the death of his wife would not collect anything at all, and that may not be a just result.
We have an imperfect system in which theoretical legal standards sometimes do not mesh well with the ugly reality of everyday life.