A recent jury verdict in South Florida found a man guilty of murdering his newlywed wife to collect a $1 million insurance policy. The focus of the case against Michel Escoto, 42, was the charge of first-degree murder in the killing of wife Wendy Trapaga in October 2002 to collect the policy. As was reported by the media, the couple returned from their honeymoon just a few days earlier. Wendy’s body was allegedly found in a trash bin in a parking lot.
The criminal case focused on punishing a man for committing a crime against the State of Florida. The family of the victim, however, may actually have recourse in a civil claim to recover the $1 million insurance policy for themselves. As a life insurance attorney, allow me to explain this in more detail.
Florida law has a little known statute, Florida Statute s. 732.802. That law says essentially that if you kill someone and were the beneficiary on their life insurance policy, you are deemed to have died before them and get skipped over on the insurance payout system. In the case of Mr. Escoto, depending on the policy’s language, it is very possible that the Estate of Wendy Trapaga, or any contingent beneficiary listed on the insurance policy application, may be entitled to collect the $1 million insurance policy.
Florida law allows life insurance claims by others even in the case of murder by the beneficiary
The language of the statute is as follows:
732.802 Killer not entitled to receive property or other benefits by reason of victim’s death.—
(1) A surviving person who unlawfully and intentionally kills or participates in procuring the death of the decedent is not entitled to any benefits under the will or under the Florida Probate Code, and the estate of the decedent passes as if the killer had predeceased the decedent. Property appointed by the will of the decedent to or for the benefit of the killer passes as if the killer had predeceased the decedent.
(2) Any joint tenant who unlawfully and intentionally kills another joint tenant thereby effects a severance of the interest of the decedent so that the share of the decedent passes as the decedent’s property and the killer has no rights by survivorship. This provision applies to joint tenancies with right of survivorship and tenancies by the entirety in real and personal property; joint and multiple-party accounts in banks, savings and loan associations, credit unions, and other institutions; and any other form of coownership with survivorship incidents.
(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.
Life insurance policy not void simply because beneficiary killed the insured
A life insurance policy does not become invalid just because the insured was killed by the beneficiary, in many cases. In Florida, the policy would pay out if a claim is made by the Estate of the victim, or by the contingent beneficiary.
The life insurance policy may still pay out if there was no beneficiary listed
If a life insurance beneficiary kills the insured and is deemed under the law to predecease the victim, the victim’s Estate may be able to claim the proceeds. To do this, an Estate would be opened nominating a personal representative or executor (in Florida we call it a personal representative). If the person had a will, the proceeds would flow through the will after certain costs and fees are taken out. If the person did not have a will, Florida law will tell how to pay the proceeds out and who is entitled to collect the proceeds. Often it would be the children of the victim, or parents of the victim.
If you have any life insurance questions after someone died, call our office for a free consultation at (800) 337-7755 or submit your question online.