There’s a saying that goes around from time to time that says a criminal cannot profit from their crimes. This might apply to someone in prison for a criminal act who wants to write a book, but they can’t profit from it. But as in many situations, the law has a way of discovering grey areas in these types of situations. In a recent decision, the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia looked at a tragic, but interesting question of whether someone who was physically responsible, but not criminally responsible, for the death of someone can be a beneficiary of the victim’s insurance.

The Facts

In 2017 a father was found not criminally responsible after he caused the death of the mother. The mother had named the father as the primary beneficiary in her insurance policy, while naming her son as contingent beneficiary. The father’s mother advocated for the insurance proceeds to go to the husband, while the mother’s mother argued they should go to the son.

The couple began living together in a common law relationship in 2007 and had their child later that same year. The father was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2012, at which time he left his job and began to receive long term disability benefits.

The mother purchased the insurance policy in 2015, at which time she identified the father as her boyfriend as the primary beneficiary, naming their son to become the beneficiary if the husband dies or is “otherwise disqualified from receiving the death benefit.”

Tragically, the father killed the mother following a period of deteriorating health. He was ultimately found not criminally responsible for her death.

The Insurance Payment

The father was placed in a hospital, at which time his mother, who was looking after the son, discovered the insurance policy and applied for it on behalf of the father. It was then that the mother’s mother claimed entitlement as well.

The court noted that there is a public policy rule which says criminals should not be permitted to benefit from their crimes. But the court then went on to say that rule has no application to this case since the father was found to not be criminally responsible for the death of the mother. Simply put, “he is not a criminal.”

The court also referenced the Supreme Court of Canada’s ruling that a finding of not criminally responsible on account of a mental disorder is not a verdict of guilt, and that a person subject to such a finding is not morally responsible for the act. As a result, the court found “There is absolutely no public policy argument in support of disqualifying (the father) from benefitting under the life insurance policy (the mother) purchased from Cooperators Life.”

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