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How a Tragic Murder-Suicide Creates Probate Complications for the Survivors


Domestic violence is an all too common problem here in Florida. Many high-profile murder cases involve family members killing one another. And even when the killer is no longer alive to face criminal charges, there can still be significant estate and probate litigation arising from such horrific acts.


Mother Files Wrongful Death Claim Against Father’s Estate Over Murder of Two Sons

An ongoing tragedy here in Florida involves the mother of two young children murdered by their father. In May 2021, the father shot and killed his two sons at the family’s vacation home. The father then set fire to the house before shooting and killing himself.

At the time, the father was in the process of divorcing the mother. According to a recent report published in the Gainesville Sun, about two weeks before committing the murders, the father updated his will to disinherit his estranged wife. He also signed forms to change the beneficiary designations on his two life insurance policies. Under the revised designations, the father named his sons as the primary beneficiary, with his brother as the secondary beneficiary.

This has led to a complex web of litigation. The mother, acting as the next of kin for her deceased sons, has filed a $10 million wrongful death lawsuit against the father’s estate. She’s also claimed the $4 million in life insurance on behalf of her sons. One of the father’s brothers filed his own petition with the probate court to divide the estate among the father’s surviving siblings. In response, the mother has alleged the brother had to have known–or should have known–about the father’s murder-suicide plans, and thus should be barred from recovering anything from the estate.

Meanwhile, the insurance company filed a lawsuit against the mother in federal court over her right to receive the $4 million from the two life insurance policies. This lawsuit came in response to a letter from the father’s brother, who claimed he was the surviving secondary beneficiary under the father’s revised designations. The insurer, however, said the father never properly executed the change of beneficiary form before he killed his sons and himself. As such, it filed the lawsuit against the mother simply to force a federal judge to determine who is the rightful beneficiary.

Does Suicide Bar Life Insurance Payouts?

One question you might have regarding this story: Can you collect on a life insurance policy if the insured committed suicide? The answer depends on the terms of the specific policy. But in general, most individual life insurance policies contain a “suicide clause” that bars recovery if the insured kills themselves within a specified period of time, usually no more than 2 years. In this case, both of the father’s policies had such a clause, but the waiting period on each had long expired. So the insurance company here is not seeking to avoid paying out on the policies. The only question is who is entitled to receive the money.

If you are involved in a dispute over the distribution of life insurance or probate assets, our experienced Pompano Beach estate and trust litigation attorneys can help. Call Mark R. Manceri, P.A., at 954-491-7099 today to schedule a consultation.



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