Judge to suicide's family: Will must be honored
A Jefferson County judge threw out objections Friday afternoon to a suicide's controversial will, ruling that the man's estate must go to a prominent Denver charity -- even though his family contends that the charity had prior notice of his suicide plans and failed to take action.
Laradon Hall, which provides services to the developmentally disabled, is the sole beneficiary of the estate of John Francis Beech, a retired Coors worker who secretly battled depression for years. Last July, Beech dropped off an envelope at Laradon that had the words WAIT UNTIL YOU HEAR FROM CORONER on the outside. The official who opened it found a check for $100,000, a copy of Beech's will and instructions on dealing with his property. Beech took his own life on July 29.
"The Giveaway," our feature on Beech's death -- and his family's distress at Laradon's failure to intervene -- attracted national attention and scores of comments on digg.com, as well as the lead slot on News of the Weird.
After opening the package, Laradon Hall acting director Annie Green reportedly left two voicemail messages for Beech; he didn't call back. Laradon's attorneys insist Green had no knowledge of Beech's suicide plans. But Susan Harris, attorney for Beech's mother, Betty Malonson, contends that the charity shouldn't profit from its inaction.
"When you have professionals who have access to psychiatrists and psychologists and deal regularly with the mentally ill, they have a higher duty," she argued during the probate court hearing. "I don't believe enabling suicide for profit is good public policy."
But Probate Judge Stephen Munsinger rejected Harris' argument. There was no evidence that Beech was mentally incompetent when he drafted the will, he noted. And while there's laws on the books that prevent a beneficiary from murdering a person and collecting his estate, the law doesn't cover a beneficiary who receives advance notice of suicide and then fails to contact the authorities.
"It's inappropriate for this court to pass [judgment] on the ethics or morality of what Laradon should have done or didn't do," Munsinger said. "I don't find that there was a legal obligation under the law to do more than they did... I have to honor the will."
Several of Beech's family members who attended the hearing later expressed disappointment in the ruling -- but no shock that the standards of the law in a case like their brother's death have little to do with ethics or morality.