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Someone you love has suddenly passed away.  You’re in shock, heartbroken, and don’t know how you’re going to carry on—and then you get a letter that accuses your loved one of intentionally taking his own life.

It may seem incredible, but it’s a common insurance company tactic—especially if the victim had a particularly well-paying policy.  In a recent case, a widow was denied death benefits after her husband’s fatal car accident because the insurance company claimed the accident was actually suicide.

If the policyholder was receiving expensive medical treatments or died shortly after being diagnosed with a terminal illness, the insurer may simply deny benefits even if the death was unintentional.

How can I prove accidental death?

Many accidental deaths can mirror suicide situations: a fall from a building could have been a misstep, and a car hitting a tree could have been a mechanical failure.  Drug overdoses are another common example: how can you tell if your relative intended suicide, or just lost track of how much painkiller medication he had taken?

The short answer is: you don’t have to.  Under many state rules, the burden of proof in suicide cases lies with the insurance company, not the insured.  This means they will have to provide a specific reason for believing your relative committed suicide—and that is the reason your attorney will have to disprove.

Even “obvious” suicides may not be suicide after all, but a side effect of medication.  Some antidepressants such as Paxil and Prozac have been known to cause “thoughts of suicide and self-harm.”  If your loved one was receiving treatment under one of these medications, it is possible his death was not his fault.

Is there any way to collect life insurance after a death by suicide?

Yes.  Some life insurance policies have a statute of limitations on the suicide clause that only lasts as long as the period of contestability–usually two years from the policy issue date.  After this period has passed, the policy is in force and cannot be invalidated by the insurer for any reason.  An experienced life insurance claims attorney can read your policy carefully and tell you if you are entitled to death benefits.

If your loved one suffered from a mental disorder or had psychological problems, the insurance company will often claim that their accidental death was actually suicide.  The problem is, mental incapacity or instability may increase the likelihood of suicide, but also increases the likelihood of accidental death.

How can I find out more?

If your relative died suddenly while he was mentally stable and otherwise healthy, there’s a good chance that death was accidental.  When these “suicide” cases go to trial, they will often result in settlements from the insured, since juries require overwhelming evidence to be convinced of suicide.

The attorneys at Life Insurance Law can get you the death benefits you deserve, and also get the full amount from your accidental death clause on top of your claim.  Contact Life Insurance Law today for a free consultation on your case.