Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Judge Orders Life Insurances Be Split In Powell Case

Susan powell

In 2012, Josh Powell killed his two sons, Charlie and Braden, and himself in a fire in Graham, Washington.  Consequently, Josh Powell was the only person of interest in the disappearance of his wife, Susan Powell, who was last seen in December 2009. 

Recently, a federal judge in Tacoma, Washington, ordered contested life insurance proceeds to be split between Josh Powell’s beneficiaries and a conservatorship and trust benefitting the heirs of Susan Powell.  The judge rejected an argument by Susan’s parents, who argued that their late son-in-law’s beneficiaries are prohibited from collecting Susan’s life insurance proceeds.  Even though Susan is legally considered alive (she has never been found nor declared dead), her life insurance proceeds can be distributed.

The judge equally divided the two life insurance policies, with one half going to the Powell beneficiaries and the other half going to Susan Powell’s conservatorship.  Susan’s family fought the even distribution of a policy for Charlie and Braden, arguing that Washington law prohibits killers from collecting life insurance proceeds from their crime, and the law should be applied to Josh Powell’s beneficiaries.  Yet, the judge stated this interpretation was too broad, and the law only applies to the killer.  Anne Bremner, attorney for Susan’s family, said the judge’s strict interpretation “failed to take into account the twists and turns of Susan Powell’s disappearance, including how her husband changed his beneficiaries after she vanished.” 

See Nate Carlisle, Powell Life Insurance Money To Be Split Among Families, The Salt Lake Tribune, May 19, 2014. 


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