Photo: ElvertBarnes via Flickr
Have you heard the term dead peasant life insurance? It refers to a life insurance policy an employer holds on an employee.The employer is listed as the beneficiary and collects a death benefit if the employee dies.
Plan Was Intended for Key Employees Only
The practice began with companies insuring key employees, those whose loss would severely impact company operation.
The insurance was to help compensate the companies for the loss of the employees’ highly valued services. Later, some companies decided that employee life insurance was a sound investment in general, and they began to take out policies on low- and middle-level employees. At times, the employees would not be informed. Interest would accrue on the policies, and the proceeds were non-taxable. Also, the cash value of the policies could serve as loan collateral.
Winn-Dixie Secretly Insured 36,000 Employees
According to the Wall Street Journal, the term dead peasant life insurance originated from a Winn-Dixie lawsuit. The company had secretly purchased life insurance on approximately 36,000 employees without their permission. The insurance broker’s memos included the term dead peasant in reference to the policies. The name has endured. The word peasant tends to add to the indignity of the practice.
Dead Peasant Life Insurance Can Be an Invitation to Murder
Admittedly a small risk, an unscrupulous employer could murder the employee to collect the term life insurance. A story from 10TV.com tells of an employer in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, that faces charges of conspiracy to commit the murder of a former employee to collect on a life insurance policy. The employer is accused of attempting to hire a killer for $50,000. The policy would have paid about $500,000. Regardless of whether the employer is convicted, this case illustrates the risk involved with employer-held insurance policies.
Bank Collects $4 Million on Ex-Employee
According to ABC News, a Houston widow, Irma Johnson, lost her husband to brain cancer. She accidentally received a huge life insurance check in the mail. After checking, she found that her husband’s former employer, Amegy Bank, had purchased the large life insurance policy on him. Shortly after the purchase, the employee was fired, depriving him of his health insurance.
Houston Press.com quotes Johnson’s lawyer as saying, “Amegy purchased two dead peasant insurance policies in 2001, totaling more than $4 million, after Johnson had already undergone two brain surgeries and was undergoing chemotherapy.” The bank collected the $4 million after the man was fired. It had continued to pay the insurance premiums and was legally entitled to collect the death benefit.
Almost anyone would agree that it is morally reprehensible that your ex-employer can gamble on your death. This story is so egregious that it was featured in Michael Moore’s movie “Capitalism: A Love Story.”
Federal law now requires employers to obtain an employee’s permission before purchasing a life insurance policy. By meeting this and other requirements, employers may purchase insurance on their employees and collect upon their deaths. It appears that banks and blue chip corporations carry billions of dollars in life insurance on their employees. How strict is the enforcement of the regulations and how many companies choose to flout the law? Do you know if your employer will benefit by your death?
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