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Does Suicide Affect an Estate Plan?

Yes, by all accounts, the title of this article evokes images of a disturbing topic; for countless families, however, this is a reality that many unfortunately face. There is no question that suicide can devastate a family. A question that families often ask after the initial blow of what’s transpired is what happens to my loved one’s estate now? Will the suicide somehow impact his or her last wishes, assuming those wishes have been reduced to a trust or a last will and testament? The answer, thankfully, is no. A properly executed estate plan describes in detail what happens to a person’s belongings at death. The plan goes into effect as soon as a person dies, and will be followed so long as it is valid. The manner of a person’s death is ultimately irrelevant so long as the plan was executed properly.

That said, I would include one caveat to the above for anyone holding life insurance. One should always remember that life insurance is a contract, and that any benefits to be paid under the contract are ultimately controlled by the language in that agreement. Many policies issued today contain what are known as suicide exclusion clauses. The extent of these clauses may differ, in as much as some have sunset provisions, but the ultimate effect is the same. If an individual commits suicide and runs afoul of such a clause, any benefits to be paid under that life insurance policy will likely be avoided in their entirety. Such being the case, a person’s estate plan could well be adversely affected if it relies partially or entirely on life insurance proceeds.

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