This article draws on a big court case in Indianapolis with AIG disputing a life policy worth $15 million. Under normal circumstances, insurers pay out whenever they receive the death certificate. They may privately grumble the claim has come earlier than expected, but their public face will offer sympathies for the loss and pay. Indeed, if any company gets a reputation as a bad payer, their business is likely to dry up fast. With PR and marketing being everything in persuading people to part with their money, insurers usually pay out without comment. Why so different in this case? Well, the first issue is the circumstances of the death. This was a confident older woman aged 74 and she was found fully-clothed, drowned in her bath. The homicide unit has investigated and, despite the fact her family said she always preferred to take a shower, it has ruled her death accidental. No matter that the world might find the circumstances “suspicious”, particularly because the holder of the life policy admitted to being the last one to see her alive, there is no ongoing investigation. This has left the insurance company to dispute the payment.
Four years ago, this active lady was a director responsible for marketing. The company and fellow director insured her life for $15 million. This is perfectly proper as a part of succession planning. It gives the company the cash to buy out the shares and cover losses while a replacement key person is found. Except there is some suspicion the appointment of this lady as a director was only done to justify getting the insurance coverage. The rules are reasonably straightforward.
If you go to a race track, you can bet which horses will win and place. You pay and if your luck (and skill) give you the right result, the bookmaker pays. You could ask the bookmaker whether it is possible to bet on the day, week, month or year someone will die. If such a bet was accepted, you would have a direct financial incentive to arrange for this stranger’s death at the appropriate time. To insure someone’s life requires you have some direct interest in the individual, usually as a relative or someone upon whom you depend. That is why this company insured a marketing director and not an office cleaner. That position fits into the expectation of the insurer and justifies the big pay out.
There are about one hundred cases pending before the courts around the US alleging that investors have been insuring the lives of strangers. Because this is the equivalent of wagering or betting, the insurers are refusing to pay. In many of these cases, there are paper justifications for the policies, e.g. to insure a borrower. It will be very interesting to see how these cases are resolved. As for the ordinary case, you can confidently get life insurance quotes for any member of your family or other relatives. If someone acts as a carer, this will justify a higher pay-out to cover the cost of a replacement. But, if you are potentially insuring someone not related to you and not acting in some protective role towards you, disclose this fact to the life insurance company before confirming the policy. Only by complete honesty at the outset can you protect everyone’s interests in the long run.