The “They’re Better Off Without Me” Misconception: Life Insurance Claims and Suicide

When a family member or friend commits suicide, loved ones are left with a myriad of questions.  Could I have helped him?  Why didn’t she talk to me?  Did he ask for help and I missed it?  What do I do now?  Will I be able to obtain the death benefit from the life insurance policy she left me?

Most of those questions cannot be answered but life insurance questions can be.  The answer depends on the type of policy the individual had, how long the policy had been in force, and how the individual died.

Basic Life Insurance v. Accidental Death and Dismemberment Policies

A basic life insurance policy can be either a term or a whole life policy, meaning they last for either a set number of years or for the extent of the insured’s life, respectively.  Usually, these policies will pay the death benefit regardless of the cause of death.

Most of these policies, however, include a standard provision stating that they will not pay a death benefit when the insured commits suicide within two years of purchasing the policy.  The two-year period re-starts with each new term, reinstatement, or conversion of the policy.

Accidental Death and Dismemberment (AD&D) policies almost never pay death benefits when the insured commits suicide.  The policies either argue that a suicide is an intentional act and, therefore, not an accident, or include exclusions that expressly state they will not pay when the death is a result of self-inflicted injuries.

Manner of Death

Depending on how an individual dies, there is often room for doubt as to whether the person intended to commit suicide.  If an insurance company is refusing to pay the death benefits from a policy because it believes the individual committed suicide, the insurance company must prove that it was, in fact, a suicide.

In many states, the law presumes that no one commits suicide, much like criminal courts presume a defendant is innocent until proven guilty.  That means the insurance company must present enough evidence that it was a suicide to overcome that presumption.  If the company is unable to do so, it must pay the death benefits due under the policy.

Unfortunately, it is difficult to argue the death was not a suicide under most AD&D policies.  Even if the death would meet the definition of an accident, most of these policies include multiple exclusions to payment that block payment.  Most significantly, they generally exclude any death that results from a self-inflicted harm of any kind.  That means that even if the individual did not intend to kill themselves, but did intentionally cause themselves an injury that accidentally resulted in death, the company does not need to pay the death benefits.

The second significant exclusion most AD&D policies include is the one that bars payment if the insured dies as a result of ingesting drugs or alcohol.  This exclusion is important here because, according to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, poisoning is the third most common method of suicide in the United States.  See Suicide Statistics, available at https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/.  The drug and alcohol exclusion has been extensively litigated, and is generally written in a manner that is incredibly difficult for policy beneficiaries to overcome.

Conclusion

Very few beneficiaries of life insurance policies would ever agree that they are better off with the death benefit than if they had their loved one back in their life.  Insurance companies often compound the loss by refusing to pay the death benefits on the deceased’s insurance policy.  While long-standing basic life insurance policies will generally pay the death benefits, it is a struggle to obtain the death benefits from an AD&D policy or a new basic life policy.

 

 

NOTHING IN THIS POST SHOULD BE TAKEN AS LEGAL ADVICE.  DO NOT RELY OR ACT ON THIS POST AS LEGAL ADVICE.  IT IS INTENDED TO BE INFORMATIVE ONLY.  If you have further questions or would like legal advice, please feel free to contact The Boonswang Law Firm at (855) 865-4335.