Washington Law Review


Rebecca Blasco


The "slayer's rule"—a common law doctrine—precludes a murderer from financially benefiting from the victim's death by denying him or her the right to proceeds from the victim's life insurance policy. Some jurisdictions have extended this rule to disqualify the slayer's exclusive family members from receiving the victim's insurance proceeds as beneficiaries. Exclusive family members are those either not related to the victim or related to the victim only by marriage. The slayer's rule applies to federal group life insurance policies, such as the Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Act (SGLI), which provides life insurance to servicemembers. Spouses and dependent children of servicemembers may also receive life insurance under the Family Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance Act (FSGLI). If the spouse or any of the dependent children covered under the FSGLI dies, the servicemember is the automatic beneficiary. If the servicemember is disqualified by the slayer's rule from receiving the benefits and has not designated a beneficiary, the statute provides an order of precedence for determining designation by law: the policy goes first to the widow or widower, and then to the children. If there are no children, the policy then goes to the servicemember's parents. When the servicemember-slayer's relatives receive the proceeds from the victim-spouse's FSGLI policy, the servicemember-slayer could benefit indirectly from the killing: the servicemember-slayer's family members may use the money to support the slayer, or the slayer may inherit or otherwise control the proceeds. This Comment analyzes the continuing validity and scope of the slayer's rule with respect to the FSGLI and identifies examples of how the statute's beneficiary provision leaves open the possibility that the servicemember-slayer could benefit from the killing. This Comment also addresses the policy concerns courts consider in determining whether to impose a bright-line, extended rule disqualifying the slayer's exclusive relatives. Finally, this Comment argues that absent explicit legislative intent to abrogate the slayer's rule, courts should strictly construe the FSGLI to preserve the rule and to disqualify the servicemember's exclusive family members when the servicemember is the slayer.

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