Death At The Hands Of The Life Insurance Beneficiary – Who Recovers

he question presented here is in the title.  If the named beneficiary of a life insurance policy causes the death of the insured, does the beneficiary still get the life insurance proceeds.
The Texas Slayer’s Rule is found in the Texas Insurance Code, Section 1103.151.  It says:
Sec. 1103.151. FORFEITURE. 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 wilfully bringing about the death of the insured.
This scenario is discussed in a 1923 opinion from the Texas Supreme Court styled, Hutcherson v. Sovereign Camp, W.O.W.
This suit was brought by Mrs. Gladys Hutcherson for herself and as guardian of her two minor children against the insurer to recover upon a benefit certificate issued to her husband.
The cause was tried before the court below upon an agreed statement of facts, the pertinent portions of which are as follows:
“That the insured, Willie J. Hutcherson, died on or about the 27th day of May, 1919; that he was killed by the plaintiff, Mrs. Gladys Hutcherson, the beneficiary named in said policy, under the following circumstances: On the morning of the day of the killing, plaintiff and insured had quarreled; that at noon of the same day they again had a family quarrel; that just after noon, while the plaintiff was sitting on the edge of a bed in one of the rooms of their home, she saw the insured coming up on the back porch, in anger, cursing and swearing, with an ax in his hand, holding the same by the handle at the place where the handle joins the ax; that after the insured got upon the porch he passed out of sight of plaintiff and next appeared in her view in the hall, just in front of the door leading into the room where plaintiff was sitting; that after insured got upon the back porch and during the time he was coming from there to the door leading into the room where plaintiff was, plaintiff reached under the pillow and got a pistol; that just as the insured appeared in front of said door and in view of plaintiff, still holding the ax in the same position in his hands, the plaintiff shot him with said pistol, and he fell to the floor of the hall and died immediately from the effect of said wound; that at that time the plaintiff believed that the insured intended to make an attack upon her, which, viewed from her standpoint, caused the plaintiff to have a reasonable expectation or fear of death or serious bodily injury, and, acting under such reasonable expectation or fear, the plaintiff shot the insured and thereby killed him; that the said Willie J. Hutcherson died intestate, and left surviving him his said wife, plaintiff herein, and only two children, namely, Sybyl and Mabel Hutcherson, both minors.”
The Court’s conclusion of the law in this matter was that the insured having died by the hands of the beneficiary acting in her own self-defense, and not by accident under the constitution and by-laws of the defendant and the certificate sued on, the certificate is null and void and of no effect and the plaintiffs are not entitled to recover herein, to which plaintiff excepts.
Whatever may have been the trial court’s actual view as to whose standpoint the question of whether or not the death occurred “by accident” within the meaning of the policy should be considered from, that is, the husband’s or the wife’s, we think both the findings and the facts on which they rest are susceptible of the construction that there was no accident as to the husband; and in our view that is the angle from whence the matter should be determined. By his own conduct the husband voluntarily brought about a situation that forced his wife in actual, or, as the court puts it, “necessary” self-defense to kill him; that much is put beyond the pale of speculation or uncertainty, since as matters appeared to her in the circumstances given she undoubtedly had the right to act upon the reasonable apprehension of death or serious bodily injury at his hands, and the court’s finding that such action was necessary to her defense is unattacked; the contract of insurance with the association was his own, he was the maker, and his beneficiaries had no interest of any sort unless and until the obligation of the insurer to him had become matured by his death; that obligation, by the express and plain terms of the policy, was a conditional one, contingent upon his not dying by the hands of his beneficiary “except by accident”; if therefore there was no accident in so far as he was concerned, the obligation never matured, and he left nothing to raise any issues on between the association and his beneficiaries. Surely the parties to such a contract could not have intended that the insured might be left free, through his own fault, to so bring on a difficulty with as to force one of his designated beneficiaries in necessary self-defense to kill him, and yet be considered as having carried out the agreement on his part so that the benefits would vest as stipulated.
Neither, as is implied from our preceding conclusion, do we think the unquestioned findings and agreed facts here bring this case under the operation of the rule applied in those appellants appeal to, but rather class it outside, in that it cannot be said that these circumstances show that Willie Hutcherson did not voluntarily assume the risk of or had no reasonable cause to anticipate his own death as a probable result of what he did; he was admittedly the aggressor, and at the very moment he was shot had, in anger, cursing and swearing, and holding an ax in his hand, gone through both a porch and a hall to the inside of the house, where his wife was, and so had advanced to the open door of her room. If this action on his part necessarily required the wife in self-defense to kill him, how can it still be said, especially in view of the protracted character of the quarrel, and the naturally consequent anger of both parties, that he had no reasonable ground to expect her to appeal to the first law of nature, the right of self-preservation?
Under the conclusion indicated, no question of forfeiture arises, but merely one of enforcement of a contract as made by the parties to it; neither is the consideration applicable that it is the general underlying purpose of such provisions in life insurance policies to prevent the beneficiary from anticipating the contract by taking the life of the insured; nor still could the situation resulting be treated as analogous to instances of a failure of a designated beneficiary.
In other words, the wife was able to recover the life insurance proceeds due to her having acted in self-defense.
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