Can an Estate Collect on a Life Insurance Policy if the Named Beneficiary is Disqualified? Or Can a Murderer collect his wife’s life insurance?

Date: 04 Jul, 2014| Author: Fred Streiman

A recent case from the Ontario Superior Court of Justice raises some important questions about the interplay between estates law and insurance law. In Papasotiriou v Manufacturer’s Insurance Co[i], the named beneficiary of a life insurance policy could be disqualified on public policy grounds because he was the one responsible for the death of the owner of the policy. There is a long line of cases from the Supreme Court and Ontario Court of Appeal that clearly states that a person cannot profit from their crime. This means that the murderer cannot collect on the life insurance policy. In this case the named beneficiary was arrested for the murder but not yet convicted. The estate took the position that, if he is convicted and subsequently disqualified, the life insurance policy should be paid out to the estate.

Master Dash heard the case which involved a number of distinct legal issues. Firstly, the relatives of the deceased wanted to intervene in the alleged murder’s action against the insurance company. The accused murderer was trying to collect before the final verdict in the criminal case was announced and the family want to stop that from happening. Secondly, Master Dash granted the insurance company’s request to have the money in the policy paid into the court. This allowed the insurance company to move on from this policy and the court to stop proceedings until after the criminal case finishes. Finally, Master Dash made a distinction in insurance policies taken out by a beneficiary and those taken out by the deceased. If the ‘owner’ of the policy was deceased and the named beneficiary is disqualified, then the insurance company must pay out to the deceased’s estate. If the policy is ‘owned’ by the disqualified beneficiary, then the insurance company is not required to pay out.

This case illustrates how an estate can collect on a term life insurance policy that would have otherwise been disqualified because of the illegal actions of the beneficiary. The court is very clear that criminals cannot profit from their crime. Equally, this decision sends the message that the proceeds of an insurance policy can be payable to the deceased’s estate even when it is not the named beneficiary in the policy. This creates a distinction between policies taken out by the deceased and policies taken out by the alleged criminal.

This is a rare form of estate litigation but it does raise interesting challenges to basic principles. If you have an estates problem, contact the lawyers at Dale Streiman Law LLP. They have over thirty years of experience in estate matters, including a wealth of expertise in estate litigation.

[i] Papasotiriou v Manufacturer’s Insurance Co, 2012 ONSC 6473 available at