Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

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

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Brother Had Standing Under Texas Slayer Statute To Seek Declaration Regarding Rights To Insurance Proceeds

Estate planningIn Lawrence v. Bailey, the Texas First District Court of Appeals addressed whether "a relative had standing under the Texas Insurance Code's Slayer Statute to obtain a declamatory judgment as to the disposition of life insurance proceeds." 

Steven Lawrence's wife LaQuita was named the primary beneficiary in his life insurance policy, which was issued by Hartford in January 2008. Their son Ross was named the contingent beneficiary. 

Steven and LaQuita were killed in their home in October 2013 and ross was indicted for capital murder for killing them. 

Hartford filed an interpleader petition in order to seek direction as to what to do with the life insurance funds. In the mean time, Hartford deposited the insurance proceeds with the registry of the court. 

Robert (Steven's brother) filed a tradition motion for summary judgment, in which he argued that based on the Texas slayer statute, he was entitled to the life insurance proceeds as a matter of law. 

The trial court ruled that it was granting the special exceptions and denying Robert's motion for summary judgment and set a trial for March of 2020. One month later, the administrator of Steven's Estate filed a "Motion to Close and Distribute Funds in Registry of the Court to the Estate of Steven Ross Lawrence, Deceased."

The trial court granted the administrator's motion and Robert filed a motion for new trial alleging that the trial court "spontaneously granted" the motion to distribute the interpleader funds to Steven's Estate, "without a hearing or notice" to him. 

Robert also asserted that "[t]his was a fundamental violation of Robert's right to due process." Robert asked the trial court to vacate the order awarding the insurance proceeds to Steven's Estate and grant him a new trial. The trial court denied the motion and Robert appealed. 

Under the Texas Insurance Code: 

A beneficiary of a life insurance policy or contract forfeits the beneficiary's interest in the policy or contract if the beneficiary is a principal or an accomplice in willfully bringing about the death of the insured.

The Texas appeals court determined that Robert had standing to obtain declaratory relief under the Texas slayer statute. The court determined that "the record also demonstrated that a real controversy exists between the parties regarding the insurance proceeds, since Hartford interpled funds indicating it anticipated rival claims to the funds." 

Despite the fact that the murder case against Ross had not been solved yet, the court found that the Texas Slayer Statute does not require that any criminal case relating to "whether the beneficiary willfully brought about the insured's death be resolved before the willfulness determination is made." 

See Brother Had Standing Under Texas Slayer Statute To Seek Declaration Regarding Rights To Insurance Proceeds, Probate Stars, August 30 2021. 


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