This is an action instituted by plaintiff Evaline B. Ray Campbell against defendant Gladys A. Ray, as guardian of Lisa Ray, a minor, and as administratrix of the estate of Burt R. Ray, deceased, seeking to recover the proceeds of certain policies of life insurance on the life of decedent of which she was originally named beneficiary, and her statutory share of the estate of the said Burt R. Ray who died intestate.
Originally, plaintiff named as defendants Mrs. Ray, individually, Murray Greiman, counsel for the administratrix, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and the Equitable Life Assurance Society of the United States. The claims against these parties were dismissed on motion prior to the commencement of trial.
Although plaintiff Evaline Ray Campbell was the named beneficiary, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company paid the proceeds of the two policies that it had issued on the life of the decedent totalling $13,276.76 to defendant Gladys Ray, in her capacity as administratrix of the estate of Burt R. Ray, deceased, since plaintiff had been convicted of second degree murder in the death of her husband, Burt Ray. The Equitable Life Assurance Society refused to make payment on the policy which it had issued until plaintiff executed a change of beneficiary designating her infant daughter Lisa as beneficiary in her place. Such a document was executed by plaintiff while she was detained at Clinton Reformatory for Women on March 29, 1963. Additionally, a document entitled "Release and Disclaimer" was executed by plaintiff under the same circumstances on April 8, 1963. On April 22, 1963 Equitable Life paid the sum of $20,000, representing double indemnity for accidental death on a $10,000 policy, and the sum of $366.58 as accrued interest from the date of death to the date of payment to Gladys A. Ray, as guardian for Lisa Ray.
Defendant, both in her capacity as guardian and as administratrix, resists the action instituted herein on the following grounds: (1) regardless of any other consideration, insofar as the Equitable policy is concerned plaintiff assigned any rights she may have had thereto and (2) plaintiff had murdered her husband and is, therefore, not entitled to the proceeds of the Metropolitan policies, despite the fact that she was the named beneficiary thereon, because of the doctrine recognized in this State that one may not benefit from his own wrong. See In re Estate of Kalfus, 81 N.J. Super. 435 (Ch. Div. 1963).
Plaintiff denies that she murdered her husband and, in any event, claims that at the time of the alleged act, concerning which she has no present memory, she was legally insane and incapable of forming the requisite intent to have committed the crime with which she was charged. Accordingly, she contends she is entitled to the proceeds of the Metropolitan policies mentioned herein and the widow's statutory share of her husband's estate. With respect to the Equitable policy, she claims that the change of beneficiary and the release and disclaimer allegedly executed by her are invalid because she lacked mental capacity at the time both were signed.
Plaintiff testified at trial that she has no present recollection of any of the events surrounding the death of her husband or her incarceration at Clinton Reformatory. In view of this fact, I have permitted into evidence the testimony given by plaintiff at her first trial under the indictment charging her with murder. Rule 63(3), Rules of Evidence (1967). The facts adduced at the first trial of plaintiff which resulted in her conviction for the murder of her husband are reported in State v. Ray, 43 N.J. 19, 21-24 (1964). That opinion reversed the conviction below and remanded the matter to the Hudson County Court for a new trial. The statement of facts hereinafter set forth serve to supplement the facts set forth in State v. Ray, supra, and describe the events that transpired subsequent to conviction. [The court here reviewed the testimony.]
Dr. Litkey who treated plaintiff at Trenton was most familiar with plaintiff's personality traits. While it is true that plaintiff was under stress at Clinton, it must be remembered that Dr. Litkey's opinion was arrived at during his course of treatment of plaintiff and not as the result of an isolated interview held some years after the event in question. I find I must accept his conclusion that plaintiff's psychiatric condition predated her confinement and that she was legally insane at the time she caused the death of her husband.
Having determined the question of plaintiff's insanity at the time of the death of her husband, there remains for determination the factual question as to whether plaintiff was competent to understand the nature of her act in signing the Change of Beneficiary and Release of benefits on March 29 and April 8, 1963, respectively. It was Dr. Litkey's opinion that plaintiff was not competent to execute either document on the dates in question. This opinion was concurred in by Dr. Sherman.
I must conclude that plaintiff's action in signing both the Change of Beneficiary and the Release forms was well within the response expected of the stimulus presented to her, i.e., a desire to see that her infant daughter was cared for.
The question remaining for consideration is one of law. Stated simply, it is as follows: Does a wife who murders her husband have a right to claim the proceeds of an insurance policy on his life where she is named beneficiary, and to inherit an intestate share of his estate where she was insane at the time that she committed the ...