Survivor's lament

Ken Welsby looks at how life insurers handle suicides

When a member of your family (or, indeed, a friend) commits suicide it is emotionally devastating. "Why did he do it? Why didn't he come and talk to me? If only he had said something?" is the anguished cry. In many cases, a suicide triggers deep feelings of guilt and inadequacy among other family members. Elizabeth is the widow of a shop owner who died from drowning at 41: "I'm his wife. We had been together for nearly 10 years, married for eight of them. That's 3,000 days and nights together - and I didn't feel what he was feeling. Every day I woke up asking myself: what kind of a woman am I that I couldn't feel how much he was hurting?"

Most suicides are men. In 1994 there were 2,821 male and 798 female suicides in England and Wales. The total has fallen from a peak of about 4,400 a decade ago, but that disguises an alarming trend: the sharp rise among men under 45. Women's suicides have fallen, but men's have been rising steadily since the 1970s - the first time since 1911 that male and female suicide trends have moved in different directions.

Suicide, or apparent suicide, always involves an inquest in England and Wales (the legal procedure is different in Scotland). This can often delay the funeral, by which time money matters may well have started to intrude on grief. As with any death, the first consideration will normally be paying for the funeral and other routine expenses. In the case of a partner's death, the survivor can draw on a joint account, but funds held in a personal account will not be released until probate is granted, and this will not be affected by the fact that the death was suicide. In the case above, Elizabeth was able to cover the initial expenses from her own savings and the joint account - but that did not last. Two of three life insurance policies paid up without delay. The third was more complicated since it had been taken out only a few months earlier. Like most life insurance policies, this carried what is known as a one-year suicide exclusion clause. In strict terms that means that if the holder dies from his or her own hand within 12 months of the policy being taken out, the insurer is not obliged to pay. The idea is to prevent someone with crippling debts trying to safeguard his or her family by taking out substantial life insurance and then committing suicide to trigger a payout.

In Elizabeth's case, the insurer paid up once satisfied the claim was legitimate, which involved a two-month delay.

Just how the one-year exclusion clause is interpreted will vary from insurer to insurer. Co-operative Insurance is probably typical. Les Boland, an assistant general manager, explains: "We would normally apply the exclusion clause, but we would consider each case individually." Guardian Assurance takes a similar view, but like many other insurers it will pay up within the first year if the policy has been taken out to cover a mortgage. "Where the policy is intended to safeguard the interests of a third party, such as a mortgage lender, we would not hesitate to pay," a spokesman says. "The consequences could be disastrous for the family. At a time when they were suffering emotionally, the last thing they would want to worry about was the mortgage." This is echoed by Kevin Pearce, a director of Allied Dunbar, who emphasises that the exclusion clause does not rule out payment; it simply enables the insurer to exercise discretion.

He says: "Only when we have all the facts can we make a decision on a claim, but we would certainly be sympathetic. For example, we have recently paid a claim involving a man who committed suicide following the death of his daughter, even though the policy had been in force less than a year."

David Lamb, director of marketing and development at J Rothschild Assurance, which specialises in higher-value life cover (up to and beyond pounds 1m), views the exclusion as unnecessary in his sector. "The value of our policies is such that we tend to have detailed medical and financial histories from our clients."

All the insurers point out, however, that they would not be sympathetic to a first-year claim where information, for example regarding health or debt, had not been disclosed.

So far as a survivor's pensions are concerned, the nature of the death will not usually affect eligibility. The exception is if a plan includes integral life assurance, which may also include the one- year suicide exclusion clause.

Suicide figures for 1994

Age range Men Women

5-14 5 2

15-24 341 62

25-34 726 136

35-44 556 120

45-54 476 132

55-64 290 111

65-74 229 102

75-84 148 94

85+ 50 39

Source: Office for National Statistics

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Guru Careers: Pricing Analyst

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pricing Analyst to join a leading e-...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £45K YR1: SThree: At SThree, we like to be dif...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: Did you know? SThree is a mul...

Guru Careers: C# Project Team Lead

£55 - 65k (DOE): Guru Careers: A unique opportunity for a permanent C# Develop...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor