Expert: Texas Tech Professor Available to Discuss Estate Effects of Maynard Death

How might this effect distribution of her estate, life insurance policies.


This weekend, the right-to-die controversy reached a critical juncture when 29-year-old Brittany Maynard went through with her planned death through Oregon's “Death With Dignity” law, which allows doctors to prescribe lethal amounts of drugs for terminally ill individuals. Maynard had been diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor and publicly expressed her plan to end her life rather than slowly suffer from the effects of the tumor.

One question from this form of death centers around its legal ramifications. Because many could consider Maynard's death suicide, does this automatically negate life insurance policies, and what happens to her estate? If she planned for retirement, what becomes of her plans, such as 401k accounts? Gerry W. Beyer, the Gov. Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law in the Texas Tech School of Law, is a frequent contributor to publications and has authored numerous books and articles regarding estate planning.


Gerry Beyer, Gov. Preston E. Smith Regents Professor of Law, Texas Tech University, (806) 834-4270 or

Talking Points

  • Not only did Maynard go public with her planned death, she became an advocate for the movement allowing people to die with dignity, debating physicians and conducting numerous media interviews. She even refused to use the word suicide because she was already dying from cancer.
  • If a doctor assists the person in procuring the fatal drugs, the term “physician-assisted suicide” is often used. Assisted suicide in general is sometimes called “passive euthanasia” because the euthanizer merely supplies the means of death rather than directly causing the death. Assisted suicide can be contrasted with “voluntary euthanasia” in which the euthanizer actually kills the patient at that patient's request. The term “involuntary euthanasia” is reserved for cases when the euthanizer kills a person out of reasons of mercy but when the person did not request to be killed.
  • Could this case reopen the debate about whether physician-assisted death should be allowed, and if it is, does it take away the label of suicide? If that is the case, it could open up another debate on whether insurance or financial benefits should be paid to beneficiaries that would normally be negated due to the fact that many policies refuse payment if the cause of death is suicide.


  • “The Oregon statute provides that a qualified patient's act of ingesting medication to end his or her life in a humane and dignified manner has no effect upon a life, health or accident insurance or annuity policy.”
  • “Suicide, assisted or otherwise, has no impact on the validity of a will or how heirs are determined. In the distant past, suicide did make a difference because of religious teachings that suicide is a sin.”