Life Insurance Attorneys in Fort Worth, Weatherford, Grand Prairie, Dallas, and the rest of the State need to have some understanding of when a person is considered dead for life insurance purposes. Admittedly, it is not a situation that is going to occur very often, but is a situation where a little knowledge is necessary.
Stating the obvious: For the beneficiary of a life insurance policy to recover death benefits, the insured must be dead. Doubt may arise when the insured disappeared or when there is uncertainty over the identity of the dead body. There are many Texas cases that stand for the preceding statement.
Proof of the insured’s death may be aided by a legal presumption. After a person is absent for seven years, the law presumes the person to be dead. This is found in the Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code, Section 133.001. It is short and says, “Any person absenting himself for seven successive years shall be presumed dead unless it is proved that the person was alive within the seven-year period.”
Here are some examples of cases dealing with the uncertainty of an insured’s death.
The Texas Supreme Court ruled in 1987, in the case, Davidson v. Great National Life Insurance Company, regarding this issue.
Facts – An insured traveled to Tel Aviv, leaving behind some questionable financial dealings. A badly disfigured body was found near the hotel where he was registered. His wife claimed the body was his, and she sought death benefits. The insurance company asserted there was a conspiracy to commit fraud and to fake the insured’s death. Relevant evidence included testimony from an Israeli police officer identifying photos of the body as being photos of the insured.
The United States Supreme Court got involved in this issue in 1892, in the case, Mutual Life Insurance Company v. Hillmon.
In Hillmon, the insured, Hillmon, headed West but never returned. Someone’s body was buried, and there was some evidence that the body was Hillmon. There was also evidence that the body might have been Walters. The jury found for Hillmon’s wife. The Supreme Court held that the insurance company should have been allowed to introduce letters from Walters showing his intent to travel with Hillmon, because that tended to corroborate the idea that the body was Walters.
The rational in these cases is discussed in other court cases. One of these cases is a San Antonio Court of Appeals case styled, American National Insurance Company v. Dailey. It’s opinion was issued in 1945. It said:
“An honored and upright citizen, who, through a long life, has enjoyed the fullest confidence of all who knew him, — prosperous in business and successful in the accumulation of wealth; rich in the affection of wife and children, and attached to their society; contented in the enjoyment of his possessions, fond of the association of his friends, and having that love of country which all good men possess, — with no habits or affections contrary to these traits of character — journeys from his home to a distant city and is never afterward heard of. Must seven years pass, or must it be shown that he was last seen or heard of in peril before his death can be presumed? No greater wrong could be done to the character of the man that to account for his absence, even after the lapse of a few short months, upon the ground of a wanton abandonment of his family and friends. He could have lived a good and useful life to but little purpose, if those who knew him could even entertain such a suspicion. The reasons that the evidence above mentioned raises a presumption of death are obvious; absence from any other cause, being without motive and inconsistent with the very nature of the person, is improbable.”
These types of cases would be rare. One thing for certain though. If this situation were to present itself, an experienced Insurance Law Attorney needs to be involved early in order to insure a favorable outcome in dealing with the insurance company.