Widow of architect who took his own life slams 'heartless' insurers

Architect’s widow slams ‘heartless’ insurance company for refusing to pay out £338,000 after 49-year-old took his own life eight days before policy’s suicide clause was due to kick in

  • Billie Lee-Smith and her two daughters face losing their home in Truro, Cornwall
  • Aegon insurers refused to pay out life insurance due to 12-month suicide clause
  • Tony Smith, 49, took his own life eight days short of clause’s expiry in November
  • Ms Lee-Smith is now battling Aegon, claiming it is ‘lacking human compassion’
  • For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123, or go to samaritans.org

The widow of a 49-year-old architect who took his own life has accused an insurance company of being ‘heartless’ after it used small print to decline her £338,000 claim.

Billie Lee-Smith and her two daughters face losing their home in Truro, Cornwall, after Aegon insurers refused to pay life insurance due to a suicide clause.

Its life policies along with those of many other insurers have a term that states they will not pay out where the insured person takes their own life within the first 12 months of cover. 

Tony Smith, who took his own life last November without any prior warning or signs that he was struggling mentally, died eight days short of the clause’s expiry.  

Ms Lee-Smith, head of art at Falmouth School, is now battling Aegon, claiming it is ‘heartless’ and ‘lacking any human compassion’.

She said: ‘I’ve still got a bit of fight in me and I will do all I can to raise awareness and shame Aegon.’

Tony Smith (pictured with his two daughters), 49, took his own life last November – eight days short of the clause’s expiry – without any prior warning or signs that he was struggling mentally

Billie Lee-Smith (pictured with Tony), head of art at Falmouth School, is now battling Aegon, claiming it is ‘heartless’ and ‘lacking any human compassion

Mr Smith, a popular footballer, was a company director at Lavigne Lonsdale in Truro and had undertaken numerous architectural projects in the South West including Truro Health Park.

Ms Lee-Smith says it is still a riddle as to why he took his own life – an act Cornwall coroner Andrew Cox described as impulsive.

She said: ‘Tony took his own life without any warning, or history of depression, mental illness or financial difficulties in November last year.

‘He’d had a couple of nights of not sleeping but something in him must have snapped.

‘Tony was the happiest person and absolutely adored our daughters who are aged 16 and 10 – he did not fit the profile of someone who would take their own life which shows this could happen to anyone.’  

‘Our devastating situation has been compounded by their decision,’ said Billie whose eldest daughter found Tony, adding to the family’s trauma.

‘It’s as if Aegon are treating mental health and suicide as a crime which they are not.

‘Is it unacceptable and criminal for someone to crack eight days too early without warning and before the allocated time whereas in the insurance company’s view it’s okay after 12 months but not a day or week sooner?

‘They have dealt with me with complete coldness – it’s almost a case of “computer says no.” What Tony did was definitely not done for monetary gain.

‘It’s almost like we are being punished for his suicide. We are dealing with a financial crisis – that money would keep a roof over our heads and provide for my daughters.’

The couple became Aegon customers when they bought a new home in October 2019 and were advised to upgrade their life cover for their newly increased mortgage.

Had they stayed with their previous life cover provider that policy would have paid out.

Mr Smith, a popular footballer, was a company director at Lavigne Lonsdale in Truro and had undertaken numerous architectural projects in the South West including Truro Health Park

Jan Trainor, of BTW Solicitors, which specialises in helping individuals turned down by insurers, said she is very surprised at Aegon’s stance.

She is aware of two similar cases where the insurer eventually paid up.

She said: ‘The business has not provided any reason as to why it has invoked the suicide clause and its position seems unnecessarily harsh in the circumstances.

‘This policy replaced a previous one of longstanding and it is very clear from the facts that there was no attempt to manipulate the company into paying a false claim.

‘Life cover is meant to provide insurance against the unforeseen, and this tragic case very clearly falls entirely into that category.

‘For Aegon to deny this claim because this man took his life eight days too early is appalling.’

Insurers impose such terms to prevent people taking out life cover with a premeditated plan to solve their financial difficulties by taking their own lives. 

A spokesperson for the company previously said: ‘We have a lot of sympathy for Mrs Lee-Smith, and our decision has not been taken lightly.

‘Having looked at the claim from every angle, the decision to decline it is based on our requirement to apply the terms and conditions we set out in policies consistently with all customers.’

Ms Lee-Smith, who had to return to work as a teacher following her husband’s death, added: ‘Greater public awareness and compassion is needed in such sensitive matters.

The couple became Aegon customers when they bought a new home in October 2019 and were advised to upgrade their life cover for their newly increased mortgage

‘It is apt that October is depression and mental health awareness month so that’s why I want to raise awareness of our plight.’

She is now taking the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which could review the case. 

A charity football match will be held in Tony’s honour at 2pm on Sunday, October 17, between a team made up of two five-a-side squads he played for in Truro against Plymouth Argyle Legends at Trispen Football Ground.

It will be followed by a raffle/auction and social gathering in the bar at St Erme Community Centre.

Tony’s friend and fellow architect Steve Griffin has also set up a JustGiving fundraising page to help Billie and her daughters.

He said: ‘Tony always put his family first and looked after and protected them.

‘He never planned to leave them in an impossible situation, yet that is what has happened because the life insurance company that he and his family depended upon, have turned their back on them when help was most needed.

‘To try and avoid this desperate situation becoming any worse, we are reaching out to the architectural and construction community to help this family raise money to save their home.

‘All donations from individuals or professional practices will be gratefully received and will make a massive difference.’

For confidential support, call the Samaritans on 116123, or go to www.samaritans.org  

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