Beneficiary And Life Insurance

Here’s a question someone in Fort Worth, Dallas, Arlington, Grand Prairie, Mansfield, Lake Worth, Azle, Grapevine, or anywhere else in Texas might ask. When is someone considered dead for purposes of collecting on a life insurance policy?
Let’s start with this. For an intended beneficiary under an insurance policy to collect death benefits the insured must be dead. But what if there is no body? Also doubt about the death may arise when there is uncertainty over the identity of a body. This was the case in a 1987 Texas Supreme Court case styled, Davidson v. Great National Life Insurance Company. This was also an issue in the 1892 United States Supreme Court case, Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York v. Hillmon.
Legal presumptions can aid in determining whether a death has occurred. In the Texas Civil Practices & Remedies Code, Section 133.001, some help is found. This section says, “Any person absenting himself for seven consecutive years shall be presumed dead unless it is proved that the person was alive within the seven-year period.
Section 133.002 states, “If a branch of the armed services issues a certificate declaring a person dead, the date of death is presumed to have occurred for all purposes as stated in the certificate. The certificate must be admitted in any court of competent jurisdiction as prima facie evidence of the date and place of the person’s death.”
In the above Davidson case, the 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, Great National Life 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 second example, which is the Hillmon case from above, was that 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 United States Supreme Court held that the insurers 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 seven year statute becomes relevant and the 1945, San Antonio Court of Appeals case, American National Insurance Company v. Dailey, makes for interesting reading. The opnion in that case reads in part, “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 weath; rich in the affection fo 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 than 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 other cause, being without motive and inconsistent with the very nature of the person, is improbable.”

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