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Wednesday, June 19, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

No Windfall as Mom Faces Murder Trial

PHILADELPHIA (CN) - A man cannot cash in on his dead father's life insurance because he plans to use the money to fund defense costs for his mother, who has been charged with the father's murder, a federal judge ruled.

Dorleen Burkland is awaiting trial in Bucks County, Pa., on first-degree murder charges in the 2010 shooting death of her estranged husband, commercial pilot Michael Burkland.

Though Dorleen is the primary beneficiary to her late husband's $149,000 policy, she disclaimed her rights to the proceeds, leaving the couple's adult son, Gabriel Burkland, as the contingency beneficiary.

Michael Burkland's brother, Dean Burkland, quickly intervened, citing the Slayer's Act in Pennsylvania, which prohibits people from profiting off their crimes.

Metropolitan Life froze disbursement of proceeds under policy, issued through Michael Burkland's employer, United Airways, leading the son to petition for an emergency injunction.

Gabriel Burkland told the court last year that he was planning to give a portion of the insurance proceeds to his mother so she could replace her public defender with private counsel.

But U.S. District Judge Mitchell Goldberg insisted that MetLife hold onto the insurance policy proceeds until the criminal case is resolved. Distributing the funds to Gabriel would violate both the Slayer's Act and the Department of Labor's Employee Retirement Income Security Act since it was a work-issued insurance policy.

"If Dorleen Burkland is convicted of the murder of her husband, she should not be entitled to the proceeds of his life insurance policy," Goldberg wrote Tuesday. "Permitting Dorleen Burkland to 'disclaim' her interest in these proceeds now before her culpability can be determined, and allowing the distribution of these proceeds to a third party who has clear intentions to transfer part of these proceeds to her, undermines the principles underlying the Slayer's Act and federal common law."

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