Federal Court And The Slayer Statute

Weatherford life insurance lawyers know that the “Slayer Statute” works the same in Federal Court as in State Court. A 1986, opinion from the Northern District of Texas says so. The style of the case is, American Nat. Ins. Co. v. Huckleberry.
This case is before the court on the motion for summary judgment of defendant Deborah Huckleberry Stevens (“Stevens” or “the guardian”). Upon review of the motion, response, affidavits, exhibits, and brief, it is apparent that no issues of fact exist for trial. Consequently, for the reasons stated below, Stevens’ motion is granted.
American interpled the $100,000 face amount of its policy insuring the life of Beverly Ann Huckleberry, deceased.
This court is called upon to decide the following questions of law as framed by Stevens:
1. Has Huckleberry forfeited his right to receive the insurance proceeds due to his conviction for murdering the insured?
2. When a primary beneficiary has lost his rights to life insurance proceeds due to a conviction for murdering the insured, who then receives the proceeds: the innocent second beneficiary, or the heirs at law of the insured?
Current Texas law (Texas Insurance Code, Section 1103.151) reads essentially the same as it did at the time this case was decided:
The interest of a beneficiary in a life insurance policy or contract heretofore or hereafter issued shall be forfeited when the beneficiary is the principal or an accomplice in willfully bringing about the death of the insured.
As evidenced by a copy of the judgment attached as an exhibit to Stevens’ motion, Huckleberry was convicted of first degree murder of the insured and is currently serving a life sentence in the Colorado Department of Corrections. The judgment of conviction makes reference to the Colorado Criminal Code which sets forth the elements of first degree murder.
Section 18-3-102 of the Colorado Criminal Code states in pertinent part, that “a person commits the crime of murder in the first degree if … after deliberation and with the intent to cause the death of a person other than himself, he causes the death of that person or of another person”. Section 18-3-101(3) of the Colorado Criminal Code defines “after deliberation” as … not only intentionally but also that the decision to commit the act has been made after the exercise of reflection and judgment concerning the act. An act committed after deliberation is never one which has been committed in a hasty or impulsive manner.
It is clear from a comparison of the language of Colorado Criminal Code sections 18-3-102 and 18-3-101(3) that the guilty verdict in Huckleberry’s criminal trial is a judicial determination that Huckleberry was a “principal … in willfully bringing about the death of the insured” which would dictate the forfeiture of his interest under Texas law. The jury verdict in Huckleberry’s criminal trial settles this issue as a matter of collateral estoppel.
Additionally, the doctrine of res judicata bars Huckleberry’s claim to the insurance proceeds. Under the doctrine of res judicata, when a prior judgment is offered in a subsequent suit in which there is identity of parties, issues, and subject matter, the judgment is treated as an absolute bar to retrial of the claims determined by the judgment.
Texas Insurance Code, Section 1103.152, provides that when a beneficiary in a life insurance policy has forfeited his entitlement to the insurance proceeds because of his participation in willfully bringing about the death of the insured, “the nearest relative of the insured shall receive said insurance.”
As shown by the undisputed facts, the named secondary beneficiary under the policy is Truett Jason Huckleberry, the stepson of the insured. Although named as the secondary beneficiary, Truett is not “the nearest relative of the insured.” That person is Crawford, the mother of the insured. Hence, if construed literally, the statute would support Crawford’s claim to the insurance proceeds. However, in a very similar factual setting the Texas Supreme Court held “… we would distribute the insurance proceeds to the nearest relative of the insured under the Insurance Code only if all of the beneficiaries, primary and contingent, are disqualified from receiving such proceeds”. Prior case law makes clear that in this case the child, as an innocent secondary beneficiary, has a claim to the proceeds superior to Crawford’s.