Unusual Lawsuits

Fort Worth's Birchman Baptist sued after father commits suicide and leaves church $100,000

Fort Worth mega church sued after congregant commits suicide

Birchman Baptist Church
More than 1,200 people attend Fort Worth's Birchman Baptist Church each week. Photo via Facebook

A Fort Worth mega church is at the center of a contentious lawsuit involving a man who committed suicide, his two adult children and a $100,000 life insurance policy. Scarlette Rafferty Elliot and her brother, Sean Paul Rafferty, are suing Birchman Baptist Church for the rights to their father's life insurance policy, which he signed away less than 24 hours before taking his own life.

According to Bankers Life and Casualty Company, the request to change the beneficiary from Mr. Rafferty's children to Birchman Baptist was faxed from the church office on June 24, 2013. Mr. Rafferty died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head on June 25.

 The request to change the beneficiary from Mr. Rafferty's children to Birchman Baptist was faxed from the church office on June 24, 2013. He died the next day.

"Birchman did not provide any solace to their obviously distressed congregational member," the lawsuit reads. "Birchman did not reach out to the family of Mr. Rafferty and raise any concern about Mr. Rafferty's state of mind when he was at Birchman seeking its assistance with the proposed change in beneficiary within hours of ending his own life."

The issue only becomes more complicated from there, as Sean and Scarlette were designated as beneficiaries by court order in 2010 when Mr. and Mrs. Rafferty divorced. To further muddle matters, the life insurance company didn't process the change of beneficiary form until June 26, 2013 — a day after Mr. Rafferty had already died.

"The plaintiffs do not believe that the signature on the change in beneficiary is their father’s signature," the lawsuit reads.

Judge Robert Ramirez ruled that even though a court order named the children as beneficiaries after the divorce, Mr. Rafferty had the right to change his life insurance policy after Sean and Scarlette turned 18, which had occurred.

Birchman Baptist maintains that it is the rightful beneficiary of the $100,000 policy. The church attempted to claim the funds about a week after Mr. Rafferty's death. In response to the lawsuit, attorney Randall Schmidt penned a letter denigrating Scarlette and Sean's relationship with their father. In the letter, Schmidt purports that Birchman Baptist pastor Dr. Bob Pearle is privy to the family dynamics.

"Dr. Pearle had been told by Mr. Rafferty that he had been scorned by Scarlette and Sean and that he had no relationship with them," the October 2013 letter reads. "Dr. Pearle knows Scarlette and Sean as they were active in church activities as children. However, they have not been in contact with the church for quite some time and declined the church's involvement with any funeral arrangements for Mr. Rafferty."

With the siblings and the church at an impasse, the life insurance company is holding onto the funds until the matter is settled at court. The next hearing in the case is August 8. Both parties are asking for summary judgment.