In a recent Nova Scotia case, a court found that a man who murdered his common law partner was entitled to the proceeds of her life insurance policy because he was found not criminally responsible for her death.
A man and woman began a common law relationship in 2007. Together, they had one child: a son born on November 9, 2007.
The man was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2012 and was unable to work as a result. Shortly thereafter, he began receiving long term disability benefits.
On July 29, 2015, the woman applied for a life insurance policy and named the man, identifying him as her boyfriend, as the primary beneficiary on this policy. She also named their son as her contingent beneficiary, with her mother as trustee for the son in the event he received any benefits before reaching the age of twenty-five. The policy defined “contingent beneficiary” as: “…the person who becomes the beneficiary if all primary beneficiaries predecease the Life Insured or are otherwise disqualified from receiving the death benefit.”
Around the Easter weekend of 2017, the man’s mental health began rapidly deteriorating. The woman and the man’s parents unsuccessfully sought medical help for the man.
On the morning of April 18, 2017, the woman returned to the home she shared with the man. It was at that time that the man killed the woman. The man was arrested and charged with the woman’s murder.
On December 4, 2017, the man was found not criminally responsible for the woman’s death on account of his mental disorder under subsection 16(1) of the Criminal Code, which provides as follows:
“No person is criminally responsible for an act committed while suffering from a mental disorder that rendered the person incapable of appreciating the nature and quality of the act or omission or of knowing that it was wrong.”
The man was subsequently confined to a forensic hospital.
The man’s parents took responsibility for maintaining the home where the man and woman and their son had lived. Through checking the mail which continued to be delivered to the home, the mother discovered the existence of the woman’s life insurance policy. The mother claimed the funds on the man’s behalf, by way of her power of attorney. However, the woman’s mother also claimed entitlement to the funds as trustee for the man and woman’s son.
Who was the rightful beneficiary of the woman’s life insurance policy: the man who killed her or their son?
At the outset, the court stated its conclusion as follows:
“There is a public policy rule which says criminals should not be permitted to benefit from their crimes. That public policy rule has no application to this case. [The man] has been found to be not criminally responsible. He is not a criminal.”
The court explained that because of his mental illness, the man was not morally blameworthy for the woman’s death. It stated that if he had been convicted of murdering the woman, he would not be able to claim the life insurance proceeds; however, he was not found guilty of murder.
The court therefore found that because the woman designated the man as the beneficiary of one hundred percent of her life insurance policyand the woman did not revoke or change her beneficiary designation before her death in 2017, the man was the rightful beneficiary of one hundred percent of the woman’s life insurance policy. The court found that under the insurance policy, a finding of not criminally responsible did not disqualify the man from receiving the death benefit and there was no lawful reason to disqualify him from benefitting under her life insurance policy.
As a result, the court declared the man as the rightful beneficiary of one hundred percent of the woman’s life insurance proceeds.
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