Most states around the nation have a “Slayer Statute,” a/k/a a “Killer Statute” a/k/a “Killer Laws”, including Texas, which ensures an individual who is found guilty of or is suspected of causing the death of another person cannot benefit from the intentional murder of the decedent, particularly, their life insurance policies and estates. Equity does not allow a “bad actor” – in this case a murderer – to benefit from their bad act.
The Texas Slayer Statute:
If a person is named as a beneficiary of another persons estate or life insurance policy, conceptually, that person may have some incentive to kill in order to reap the benefits – inheritance or insurance proceeds – from that other person’s death. Public policy (and everyone) is against that incentive and wants to eliminate it. Forfeiture is the solution – you cannot kill the person from whom you will benefit and realize those benefits.
Within the state’s official insurance statutes, the Slayer Statute in Texas is codified at Texas Insurance Code, Sec. 1103.151, which reads as follows:
“A beneficiary of a life insurance policy or contract forfeits the beneficiary’s interest in the policy or contract if the beneficiary is a principal or an accomplice in willfully bringing about the death of the insured.”
Killer laws in relation to inheritance are not codified – probably because they are just understood – but are found in case-law and in equity. A probate court in Texas is a court of equity and equity does not allow anyone to benefit from their own bad acts. Murder is, by definition, a bad act – the worst act our law recognizes – and to profit from wrongfully killing someone is, by definition, abhorred.
Murder Conviction Not Required:
One assumption people make about the slayer statute is that a person must be convicted of murder to forfeit their inheritance or beneficiary designation. Not True! In fact, a murder conviction is not required. A civil court need only find, by a preponderance of the evidence (it was more likely than not) that the accused caused the death of the decedent.
An notable example of a civil court finding an acquitted murderer liable for the wrongful death is the lawsuit filed by the parents of Ron Goldberg, killed along with Nicole Brown Simpson, against OJ Simpson for damages. The civil court – a jury – found that OJ Simpson caused the wrongful death of Ron Goldberg, after he was acquitted of his murder. OJ Simpson was not a beneficiary of any life insurance policy of Mr. Goldberg, but the standard is different in civil court (a preponderance of the evidence – the lowest legal standard) versus in criminal court (beyond a reasonable doubt – a much higher standard). Yes, you literally have a murder trial in civil court with a much lower standard of proof.
Virtually all states have similar laws because the alternative is so unacceptable. The alternative to forfeiture is to eliminate the opportunity to designate a life insurance beneficiary or to pass down an inheritance; neither of which can or is going to happen. As a result, forfeiture of the benefits designated to the murderer is more practical and, if people are aware of them, solve the issue of motive for murder by a slayer or killer.
Spencer Law: Experienced Estate & Trust Attorneys
From our home base in Dallas, we serve clients across the state of Texas with estate and trust matters that require the dedication of an experienced lawyer. Contact our office today at (214) 965-9999, with questions you have about estate, trust, guardianship, or fiduciary litigation.