Stephens v. Beard, 428 S.W.3d 385 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2014) rev'd, 485 S.W.3d 914 (Tex. 2016).



"Common Disaster"


Husband murdered wife, immediately shot himself, but did not die until a few hours later.  Each will provided for legacies to named individuals if they died in a common disaster or if their death order could not be determined.  The wills also provided that if one spouse failed to survive by 90 days that their property would pass to various contingent beneficiaries.  The trial court determined that the legacies were effective because the spouses died in a common disaster.


The appellate court affirmed.  The court held that the murder-suicide was a common disaster because Husband fired both the murder and suicide gunshots in one episode.  The court determined it was irrelevant to the classification of the event as a common disaster that Husband “did not successfully kill himself immediately.”  Id. at 388.  The court also determined that the 90 day survival period for the contingent gifts did not apply to the legacies because the survival language was not included in those gifts.


Moral:  A murder-suicide may be considered as a common disaster if that term is undefined in a will.