SALT LAKE CITY >> December will mark the five-year anniversary of the disappearance of Susan Powell — a Utah mother who has never been found despite her family’s continued searches.
Under Utah statute, Powell will be presumed dead at that time, meaning that about $2 million in life insurance proceeds can begin flowing into a trust she set up with her husband, Josh Powell, prior to her disappearance.
As that date approaches, and with all the primary beneficiaries now dead, the question of who is entitled to that money is being debated in the courts.
Josh Powell was being investigated as a suspect in his wife’s disappearance when moved to Washington state, where he killed himself and the couple’s boys in 2012.
On Tuesday in a Salt Lake City courtroom, Susan Powell’s parents Charles and Judy Cox were alongside their attorney to defend a decision Cox made last year to cut out Josh Powell’s mother and sister from the trust and make themselves the sole beneficiaries.
Lawyer Ted Buck said Cox has no responsibility to look out for anybody but his daughter, and that his modifications of the trust were within his legal rights as conservator.
“All I have done is try to protect my daughter’s assets so when my daughter comes back and she’s found, there will be something for her to come back to,” Cox said outside court.
Joshua Lee, the attorney for Josh Powell’s mother and sister, argued that the judge should void that modification to the trust. Lee contended that even as the court appointed conservator of the trust, Cox does not have the power to modify terms that called for proceeds of the life insurance to be split evenly between heirs from both families.
Lee accused Cox of having a conflict of interest, hoping to “line his own pockets” with the life insurance proceeds at the expense of Josh Powell’s family. He said Susan Powell was close with her mother-in-law, even designating as the second choice to be guardian of her kids.
On Tuesday, Lee spoke on behalf of Josh Powell’s mother, Terrica Powell, who was not in court.
“We all know that Josh Powell did some awful things and Mr. Cox has suffered greatly for that,” Lee said in court. “But we should step back and look at Terry Powell. She has suffered greatly as well and she is not guilty of any terrible acts. It’s been a horrible ordeal for her as well.”
After listening to about 1 1/2 hours of arguments, Utah judge L.A. Dever said he would issue a written ruling at a later date.
The Utah police agency investigating Susan Powell’s disappearance closed the case last year, saying for the first time they believed Josh Powell played a role in killing his wife and that his brother Michael Powell helped get rid of her body. Both men denied involvement in her disappearance before committing suicide about a year apart.
During the hearings, Dever questioned Lee how his clients have a stake in the issue. “As long as she is alive, your clients have no interest,” Dever said.
Outside court, Lee said nobody believes that Susan Powell is still alive, saying that in a few months Utah law will presume her dead.
Judge Dever questioned Buck how anybody could possibly know what Susan Powell would do, calling it speculation.
Buck pushed back against the notion that Cox doesn’t know what his daughter would do, saying he knows her better than anybody in the world. Powell may have been close in the past with her mother-in-law, but she wouldn’t be today with all that happened, Buck argued.
“Do we think that Susan Powell would have those same priorities after what has happened since 2009?” Buck said. “I don’t think so.”
Earlier this year, a federal judge in Washington ruled that Josh Powell’s family can share in about roughly $793,000 from the life insurance proceeds from the two young sons he killed in 2012.