The Morose Side of Life Insurance: Suicide and Untoward Death

Suicide is a sensitive topic. It is one of the most serious issues affecting modern society, and according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), approximately 3, 000 people commit suicide every day, and every 30 seconds, one suicide-related death is reported. Additionally, the worldwide suicide rate has increased by 60% worldwide in the last 45 years.


It is natural to wonder what stance your life insurance provider will take in the event of you committing suicide, or to take it even a step further, get killed in the process of committing a crime.

Many people live under the false impression that life insurers would not settle any claims that arise out of these circumstances. This belief is wholly false, and to understand the logic behind the view life insurers take of these events, we have to go back a hundred years or so in history.

At the advent of the 20th century, open clauses existed in life insurance policies that specifically stated that the insured party’s elected beneficiaries will not receive any form of settlement in the event that the insured party commits suicide or loses their lives whilst committing a lawful transgression.

The stance historically taken by life insurers to justify this clause was that it is morally and ethically wrong to provide an economic incentive for suicide by paying off beneficiaries. Similarly, death whilst committing a crime, particularly a serious offence, was not paid out on ethical grounds.

The stance taken by most courts of law the world over, however, differed. It was soon determined that it was even more wrong to tell a grieving family that they will receive no financial support due to the fact that the insured party’s death was untoward.

Enter the incontestability clause. This was a way for life insurers to both protect themselves as well as to appear to their clients as more understanding and accommodating. The incontestability clause gives the life insurer a specific period of time, mostly two years, in which they can uncover and object to problems with the statements made by the policyholder in their policy application.

Any objection which falls outside this specified period of time will be null and void, and life insurance claims will be settled irrespective of circumstances of death. Two years is the average length of time that insurers have, as psychological research has uncovered that it is very unlikely for a person to take out a life insurance policy with the intent of committing suicide two years later.

Nevertheless, always remember that suicide is never the only way open to you. We all need emotional support from time to time, and life can seem to be too much at times. There are many institutions that can and will assist you, free of charge.

The two biggest suicide hotlines in South Africa are Lifeline South Africa, contactable 24/7 on 0861 322 322, and Befrienders, contactable on 051 444 5691.

These places employ skilled professionals that will be able to assist you over the phone and direct you to where you need to go and what you need to do. Make the right choice – choose life. We all have so much we can accomplish in this world. Do not take away all chances you ever have of doing so.

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