February 15, 2022

The Slayer Rule: Murder and Insurance Money

The Slayer Rule: Can You Kill & Still Collect Life Insurance?

We…Are…Live!  Fourth case study for 2022 – Murder

This is a real quote: The only time it’s mandatory to go to a funeral is if it’s your own.” K.N.

A woman walks into a lawyer’s office in Buffalo, New York. Her name is Cheryl.


“Hello! Have a seat. How can I help you?” the lawyer asks offering her a chair.

“Yeah”, she says her voice shaking.  “Uh, thank you. I need a lawyer cause..uh…my mom – her name’s Chenata – she died and I have her life insurance policy.  Me and my brother Gus were supposed to get 50-50.“

“Did the insurance company pay up?” the lawyers asks.

“Well, kind of: they paid half…to me.”

“That sounds right,” the lawyer says feeling a possible case slipping away.

“The insurance company put the other half in court. They sent us papers that say they aren’t going to pay the other half to me or my brother.”

“Did they give a reason why?” the lawyer perked up.

“Cause he killed her. Gus, my brother, killed my mom.”

The brown leather chair squeaked as the lawyer sat back in his chair and grinned at Cheryl as he nodded his head up and down while tapping his fingers against each other. 

Easy peezy, he thought.  “Tell me more, Cheryl…”

The Slayer Rule 

In New York one cannot take property by inheritance or will from someone whom they have murdered.  That is called the Slayer Rule.  The Slayer Rule also applies to life insurance proceeds. If you intentionally kill someone who made you a beneficiary of an insurance policy, you cannot collect. 

And that is the legal background you need to study our case. In this case the Life Insurance Company was not sure if they should distribute the money to Gus or to Cheryl.  So they deposited the money into court and basically said, we’re not sure who should get the money so there it is and you two can fight it out. That is called an Interpleader Action.  The problem was that Gus was not convicted of murder at a trial – he was declared mentally incompetent. But Cheryl was sure he did it.

Let’s take a peek at how the case was argued.

The Scene

Northern District of New York Courtroom -- Rochester

JUDGE: Will the Clerk call the next case?

Good morning, all. We are here on Cheryl’s motion to direct the insurance company to pay her Gus’s portion of the life insurance proceeds. 

CHERYL’S LAWYER: Thank you, Your Honor.  

Cheneta Oldham died on December 23, 2018, in the home where she lived with her son, Gus, as the result of multiple gunshot wounds.

Gus killed his mother. 

Three days before his mom died, she texted Cheryl that she was putting Gus out of the house.

On the day of the murder, Cheryl tried calling her mother and also texted asking her mother to call her back but received no response. 

When Cheryl called Gus and asked to speak to their mom, Gus kept saying, “She’s lit up. She’s lit up.”

When the police arrived at the home, Gus was barricaded in his bedroom.

He had with him a semi-automatic rifle, which subsequent testing demonstrated was the gun that had been used to kill their mother.

Gus may not benefit from killing his mother and recover life insurance proceeds for a death he caused.

GUS’S LAWYER: Thank you, Your Honor.  Gus did not kill their mother.

Cheryl did speak to Gus when he answered his mother’s phone. 

But Cheryl also stated that in that phone call, Gus told Cheryl to stop calling their mother because she was dead. He had killed her. 

But in her sworn statement taken days after the mom’s death, when asked if Gus told Cheryl that he had killed their mom, Cheryl replied, “he kept saying, ‘She lit up. She lit up.’ I have no idea what that means.” Her words, Your Honor.

Gus was never convicted of his mom’s murder. In fact, he was found incompetent to stand trial. Gus did not kill anyone, and he is entitled to his share of the insurance money.

The Judge's Ruling

JUDGE:  If Gus had been convicted of the murder this would be an easy case. But he was not convicted.

An exception to New York’s slayer rule applies where the killer did not know at the time the nature and quality of his act. The same exception applies where the killing was accidental, in self-defense.

Absent a conviction, there can be no forfeiture of the insurance money unless it is proven that Gus acted recklessly or intentionally in causing the mother’s death -- not that acted negligently. And Cheryl has to prove that.

If Cheryl cannot prove that Gus acted recklessly or intentionally, Gus gets his share of the money.

Cheryl’s motion is DENIED. 

So Ordered. We are adjourned.

Justice served?  Let us know. We’ll see you next time.

Click here for the case.

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