Suicide by cop

Is someone who commits so-called “suicide by cop” legally (for purposes of wills, insurance, coroner’s inquest, etc) considered to have actually committed suicide?

Does suicide make any difference nowadays to wills or insurance? I thought it was generally treated the same as any other death.

Some, if not all, insurance policies do not pay a benefit if the suicide occurs within two years of taking out the policy.

Barring an extreme case (a nerdy bookworm suddenly going Rambo, for instance), how do you call it suicide?
No note, just got pulled over for a traffic stop and then went berserk, esp. after getting seriously drunk, and attacking the cop?

Suicide or just stupid.

(see Darwin Awards for the guy who walked into a gun shop with a cop by the counter and fired two wild shots - even he gets counted as ‘stupid’, not suicidal)

Do insurance policies have a “do not pay” clause if the person gets killed while said person is committing a felony?

In short, it depends; sometimes yes and sometimes no.

First, the primary determination tends to be by death certification. Coroners/Medical Examiners tend to lean toward listing “homicide” (negligent and intentional) or “legal intervention” (basically, a justifiable homicide) on death certificates. This is true even in some cases where ample evidence indicates a planned suicide intent (e.g. suicide note and specific actions), and studies seem to think that listing it as such is more reflexive, due to the unusual nature of committing suicide. This is also ignoring the issue of potential over-use of the “suicide by cop” justification (with many feeling this is an easy-out in most situations for cops who use inappropriate levels of force).

So, as far as official cause of death, it largely depends on what’s listed on the death certificate – there are a few examples where suicide by cop is appropriately listed as a suicide, and probably many more that are not, instead listed as homicides or legal interventions. And what’s listed can be variable, even if it tends to lean away from suicide as an official cause of death.

I believe wills generally would not be impacted by cause of death, as they’re just conditional on the fact of death. One could, of course, indicate specific conditions depending on cause of death, I suppose, and thereby impact how a will executes based on cause of death.

Insurance would generally be based on the cause of death listed on the certificate, if there were provisions that were impacted by suicide (as noted by others, many have a contingency where they won’t pay out on suicide unless x-amount of time has lapsed).

However, in both the cases of insurance (and perhaps potential heirs,in the case of wills), the circumstances could likely be challenged in court if they had sufficient evidence that they believe would show they were legally not obligated to pay on a claim. In this scenario, if it was ruled a homicide by a coroner, but they had a suicide note and had told others of a plan to commit suicide by cop, that might be sufficient to relieve them of any legal obligation to pay the claim. So, that would depend on the court.

There isn’t necessarily one answer, only because what might be a determination by one party (coroner) might not match a determination made by another party (a court, as a result of legal proceedings). Speaking “legally” it could be yes, no, or some combination of the two, as there’s not necessarily one ‘final’ decision on the matter, and even those decisions are subject to change or professional opinion. So…it depends.

About the only impact I see for a Will is the near-universal suspicion that “If suicide, then insane”, and then challenge the terms of the Will by arguing that the deceased was insane and therefore legally incompetent.

But that would be for any suicide; maybe the use of the cop can blur the presumption of suicide.

What, like reaching for a cell phone?

In many cases it is very clear cut. In many instances it involves pointing an unloaded or realistic looking toy gun at police.

God knows if you intended to commit suicide by cop, so yuu still get eternal damnation

Suicide is mostly irrelevant to wills - you could possibly contest the will with the argument that the person committing suicide is evidence that they were insane when they wrote the will, but without other evidence I don’t see that going very far. Life insurance generally won’t pay out if you die committing a felony, and threatening a cop is generally a felony, so there’s probably more situations where you could get insurance for a straight suicide than suicide by cop.

Moderator Note

Let’s avoid political and religious commentary in GQ. No warnings issued, but further remarks of this kind may be subject to one.

General Questions Moderator

While the comment was perhaps unnecessarily glib, the fact remains that many people who are shot by the police in shootings that are after the fact called “good shootings” were committing no crime at all, much less a felony, and were not engaged in activity anyone would consider suicidal. That guy walking through Walmart with the air rifle he just bought, or the guy walking home with his headphones on and carrying his weapon across his shoulders, or that kid in Cleveland.

All of those shootings were called justified, but nobody was committing a felony, and I certainly don’t see it as suicide. What would an insurance company call it? Death by misadventure? Accidental doesn’t seem to fit the bill, you were shot on purpose.

It is possible the insurance company could try to deny payment and then the family would have to file a lawsuit. A judge would end up deciding the meaning of the wording in the disputed contract. If it was a very large amount of money in question, it is likely an Appeal would then be filed by the losing side, and another judge could decide it.

Another factor here depends on the specific policy exclusions, if the death occurred during the commission of a felonious act the death benefit might not be paid, even if it was not considered a suicide.
Incidentally, all life insurance policies pay in the event of suicide after completion of the policy’s contestability period (two years in most states).


Those are not the kind of shootings generally referred to as “suicide by cop.” If you want to discuss this, open up another thread in GD or the Pit.

General Questions Moderator

My understanding is that, in the case of suicide, an insurance company can say that the person who took out the insurance in the first place did so in bad faith, having planned all along to commit suicide, and therefore the contract is void and they refund all the premiums paid. They can do the same thing if you died of cancer, having lied on your application about your health status. But after two years, the policy is incontestable and they have to pay, even if you lied on your application and/or intended to defraud the insurance company.

In the case of “suicide by cop”, the insurance company might contest the policy even if there’s no official paperwork anywhere that has the word “suicide” on it. Then the beneficiary could appeal, and it would likely go to arbitration. Or perhaps the beneficiary could file a civil suit against the insurance company, prove to the court that “more likely than not” the contract was valid and there was no intent to defraud, in which case the insurance company would pay up and the lawyer would take one third.

IANAL, but I used to be licensed to sell life insurance.

For the record, this is what I was going for in my question–folks who literally have a goal of dying at the hands of police, taking actions designed explicitly to provoke cops into shooting them.

Thanks for all the thoughtful answers.

As far as death certification goes, as in filling out the legal document that certifies a person dead, the certifier is limited to one of 4 choices as to manner of death (as opposed to cause of death, which is a medical diagnosis and as such an be as varied as those are in living folk). The choices are homicide, suicide, accident and natural. There’s a 5th choice, undetermined, when info is unavailable to choose one of the 4. Per my experience, both as the one certifying so-called “suicide by cop” cases, and as someone in the field who has reviewed and otherwise heard about many such cases, they were universally certified as homicides.

When someone else pulls the trigger (or whatever) with intent to harm, it’s a homicide. It doesn’t matter why they had that intent.

The things that stick in my brain are weird. For some inexplicable reason, I recalled the name “Mo Pergament” from a couple of decades ago:

He drove erratically to provoke a confrontation with the police, then brandished a toy gun to goad them into shooting him to death.

There was a suicide note in his car that read: “It was a plan. I’m sorry to get you involved. I just wanted to die.” Would this still be officially declared a homicide on the paperwork?

“Declared” as in which box would be checked on the Death Certificate, yes.