Florida Slayer Statute Does Not Require a Murder Conviction To Apply
The Florida slayer statute bars someone from inheriting from someone they murdered. In Pacific Life v. Perez, the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, ruled that in the absence of a conviction of murder in any degree, the court may determine by the greater weight of the evidence whether the killing was unlawful and intentional.
What Is the Florida Slayer Statute?
Under the Florida Slayer Statute, a beneficiary to a life insurance policy who unlawfully and intentionally kills the insured is not entitled to any benefit under the policy and it becomes payable as though the killer had predeceased the decedent.
The Florida Slayer Statute is codified in section 732.802, Fla. Stat., which states (as to life insurance policies, relevant to this case):
(3) A named beneficiary of a bond, life insurance policy, or other contractual arrangement who unlawfully and intentionally kills the principal obligee or the person upon whose life the policy is issued is not entitled to any benefit under the bond, policy, or other contractual arrangement; and it becomes payable as though the killer had predeceased the decedent.
We’ve written about Florida slayer statute cases here, here, here, and here.
The Facts of Pacific Life v. Perez
In this case, Pacific Life Insurance Company filed an interpleader action regarding a life insurance policy they issued to Decedent Joaquin Perez. The policy identified Decedent’s son and daughter as the primary beneficiaries, with each receiving 50% of the share of the $250,000 death benefit. Pacific Life paid Decedent’s daughter Cristina’s share. The remaining 50% was the subject of the dispute.
Decedent was shot to death. Decedent’s son, Matthew, was charged with first-degree murder.
Cristina filed a crossclaim against Matthew in the interpleader action asserting a claim to the death benefit allocated to him. She claimed that Matthew unlawfully and intentionally killed decedent and therefore was not entitled to the remaining 50% of the death benefit. The Policy provides that, if the beneficiary predeceased the insured, the amount payable will be the entire death benefits to the surviving single beneficiary.
Cristina obtained a clerk’s default and moved for a default final judgment against Matthew premised on Matthew’s default and failure to file any claim to the death benefits. The Court denied the motion without prejudice because the record was insufficient to establish Cristina’s entitlement to the death benefits under the Florida Slayer Statute. Cristina renewed her motion for default judgment.
In support of the renewed motion Cristina filed a declaration and a copy of the probable cause affidavit and appearance form. The evidence reflected the following:
Matthew admitted to shooting and killing his father, the Decedent, with a shotgun because he felt unsafe that his father was “changing the locks.” Matthew also stated that he was upset that his father had woken him up that day, and he told his father that he was a felon because he was “threatening him” and that he needed to die. Matthew clearly stated to the arresting officer that he intentionally killed his father Moreover, the arresting officer noted in the Affidavit that Matthew did not mention that his father threatened him, provoked him, was violent, or did anything else to justify Matthew’s actions.
An Unlawful and Intentional Killing Triggers the Florida Slayer Statute – No Murder Conviction Necessary
A murder conviction is not required to trigger the application of the Florida Slayer Statute:
The Court concludes that the evidence establishes Matthew unlawfully and intentionally killed his father. Notably, it is of no import that Matthew was ultimately found not guilty by reason of insanity because the Slayer Statute provides that “[i]n the absence of a conviction of murder in any degree, the court may determine by the greater weight of the evidence whether the killing was unlawful and intentional.” Fla. Stat. § 732.802(5).
Also, for purposes of the Slayer Statute, the killing can be considered intentional and unlawful despite a finding of criminal insanity. See Congleton v. Sansom, 664 So. 2d 276 (Fla. 1st DCA 1995). Notably, in Congleton, a husband strangled his wife to death. He was charged with murder but was adjudicated not guilty by reason of insanity, never having gone to trial. The Slayer Statute was still applicable in the probate proceeding, even though the husband was never criminally convicted. Notably, the Court underscores that Matthew’s default in this action serves as his admission of the cross claim’s well-pled allegations, which include that he intentionally and unlawfully killed the Decedent.
Cristina was considered the single surviving beneficiary pursuant to the Florida Slayer Statute and the language of the insurance policy.
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