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Serviceman Killed By Wife; Her Son Receives Insurance Payout

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Murderer's son receives inheritance

MAY 24, 1999 VOLUME 6, NUMBER 47

Kevin and Gina Spann had been married for eleven years. When they married, Mrs. Spann had a two-year-old son from a prior marriage, Steven Hill; Mr. Spann’s will left his estate to Steven, and even referred to him as his own son, though he had not taken any steps to adopt Steven.

The Spanns were residents of Illinois, but because Mr. Spann was a soldier in the U.S. Army they had lived for many years in Germany and had returned to the U.S. to live in Georgia. During their stay in Germany, Mr. Spann had purchased two large life insurance policies. One, for $200,000, named Gina Spann as beneficiary and Steven Hill as the alternate beneficiary. The other, for $100,000, named Gina Spann and then her sister Betty Jo Pierce.

In 1997, Gina Spann persuaded her 18-year-old lover and three of his 16-year-old friends to murder Mr. Spann. She was convicted for her role in the murder, and sentenced to life in prison without parole plus an additional five years.

As it turns out, Mr. Spann had a child from an earlier relationship. He had never acknowledged Chrystal Athmer as his daughter, but DNA testing after his death confirmed that he was her father.

English-American common law makes it clear that a murderer may not profit from his or her actions. In other words, under both Illinois and Georgia law, Mrs. Spann was precluded from receiving any benefit from the life insurance contracts. Both states’ laws work the same way: the life insurance proceeds would be paid as if Mrs. Spann had predeceased her husband.

Some states go even further, and preclude the murderer’s family members from any benefit (unless they are also the family of the victim), on the theory that the murderer might derive some indirect benefit from the money, or might even be motivated to commit the murder to help family members. Georgia, for example, precludes both the murderer and his or her family from inheriting under a will, though it does not take the same position with regard to life insurance proceeds.

Chrystal Athmer’s mother made the argument that Illinois law should apply, and that it would preclude Mrs. Spann’s son or sister from receiving the insurance proceeds. The Seventh Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals agreed that Illinois law controlled, but disagreed about how that law should be interpreted.

The court noted that Illinois law was not clear on the question of disinheriting family members of the murderer. In fact, said the judges, it is fairly easy to imagine a scenario in which it would be necessary to prevent family members from receiving insurance proceeds or an inheritance. Such might be the case if Steven Hill had promised to use the proceeds to provide a legal defense for his mother, or to support her when she was released from prison.

Steven Hill, however, lives with his aunt and has no contact with his mother. There is little prospect of Gina Spann receiving any benefit from the proceeds of the life insurance policies, and so they should be paid to the alternate beneficiaries (Mrs. Spann’s son and sister). The court also noted that Mr. Spann’s relationship (or lack of relationship) with his daughter is irrelevant to this determination. Prudential Insurance v. Athmer and Hill, May 14, 1999.

Arizona’s law is similar to that in Illinois and Georgia. So far, however, the question of disinheriting a murderer’s family has not arisen in Arizona courts.

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Robert B. Fleming


Robert Fleming is a Fellow of both the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. He has been certified as a Specialist in Estate and Trust Law by the State Bar of Arizona‘s Board of Legal Specialization, and he is also a Certified Elder Law Attorney by the National Elder Law Foundation. Robert has a long history of involvement in local, state and national organizations. He is most proud of his instrumental involvement in the Special Needs Alliance, the premier national organization for lawyers dealing with special needs trusts and planning.

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Elizabeth Noble Rollings Friman is a principal and licensed fiduciary at Fleming & Curti, PLC. Elizabeth enjoys estate planning and helping families navigate trust and probate administrations. She is passionate about the fiduciary work that she performs as a trustee, personal representative, guardian, and conservator. Elizabeth works with CPAs, financial professionals, case managers, and medical providers to tailor solutions to complex family challenges. Elizabeth is often called upon to serve as a neutral party so that families can avoid protracted legal conflict. Elizabeth relies on the expertise of her team at Fleming & Curti, and as the Firm approaches its third decade, she is proud of the culture of care and consideration that the Firm embodies. Finding workable solutions to sensitive and complex family challenges is something that Elizabeth and the Fleming & Curti team do well.

Amy F. Matheson


Amy Farrell Matheson has worked as an attorney at Fleming & Curti since 2006. A member of the Southern Arizona Estate Planning Council, she is primarily responsible for estate planning and probate matters.

Amy graduated from Wellesley College with a double major in political science and English. She is an honors graduate of Suffolk University Law School and has been admitted to practice in Arizona, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia.

Prior to joining Fleming & Curti, Amy worked for American Public Television in Boston, and with the international trade group at White & Case, LLP, in Washington, D.C.

Amy’s husband, Tom, is an astronomer at NOIRLab and the Head of Time Domain Services, whose main project is ANTARES. Sadly, this does not involve actual time travel. Amy’s twin daughters are high school students; Finn, her Irish Red and White Setter, remains a puppy at heart.

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Matthew M. Mansour


Matthew is a law clerk who recently earned his law degree from the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. His undergraduate degree is in psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. Matthew has had a passion for advocacy in the Tucson community since his time as a law student representative in the Workers’ Rights Clinic. He also has worked in both the Pima County Attorney’s Office and the Pima County Public Defender’s Office. He enjoys playing basketball, caring for his cat, and listening to audiobooks narrated by the authors.