Filed Under:Your Practice, Practice Management

Williams post-mortem: Answers to 9 questions in suicide cases

The fact that someone commits suicide is, by itself, not sufficient to deny a policy claim, according to Reisman.
The fact that someone commits suicide is, by itself, not sufficient to deny a policy claim, according to Reisman.

The death of actor and comedian Robin Williams has brought to light issues focusing on life insurance policy death benefit claims in cases where the insured committed suicide within a policy’s two-year contestability period. To explore these issues, LifeHealthPro Senior Editor Warren Hersch interviewed Jerome Reisman, an attorney and partner at Reisman, Peirez Reisman & Capobianco LLP. Reisman specializes in representing beneficiaries denied coverage and/or payment under policies to recover payment. He also defends carriers in such actions.

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Hersch: Given your understanding of the situation surrounding the death of Robin Williams, what factors do you believe will be relevant in deciding on any death benefit claim in which a policy was issued on his life within the two-year contestability period?

Hersch: What other factors might a judge or jury consider in deciding on the merits of a policy in this scenario?

Hersch: Does a prenup agreement sometimes work the other way, wherein the surviving spouse inherits the assets and the children of prior marriages receive the life insurance proceeds?

Hersch: Could press coverage regarding Williams' medical treatment for alcohol abuse and depression provide justification for voiding a policy if he had not disclosed his medical issues in the policy application?

Hersch: Okay. Now let’s assume the same scenario, except that the insurer failed to void the policy while he was alive despite the fact that his medical issues became public knowledge before or after the issuance of the policy. Would the policy beneficiaries in this instance have grounds for pursuing a claim?

Hersch: What has been your experience in cases where a policy claim in suicide cases involved more complex estate planning, such as the use of trusts? Would this be material to the approval or denial of claim?

Hersch: What role might our readers, life insurance and financial service professionals, have to play in assisting policy beneficiaries pursue a claim in contested suicide cases?

Hersch: Many advisors partner with an attorney to assist clients in complex estate planning cases. Will this attorney be one the one to turn to pursue a claim in suicide cases? Or do such cases require a specialist?

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Nichole Morford

Nichole Morford
Managing Editor

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