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Q: Can I inherit from someone if I killed them?

Children. Those who have them often say they drive them crazy, but in the majority of cases parents consider their children to be one of life’s greatest blessings. It is that sentiment that brings them to the offices of New York and New Jersey estate planning attorneys to provide them with a secure future.

Property and other assets are also distributed to beneficiaries after death in accordance with a decedent’s wishes as established in their will (or in a living trust). Very often, parents leave all or a significant portion of their estates to their children. Depending on the children’s ages, and their level of financial responsibility and maturity, parents may establish that distributions to children will occur in increments over time as the children hit various post-majority ages (such as 25, 30, 35, etc.) to avoid them squandering their inheritances.

It’s not uncommon for parents to tell their adult children– – or for adult children to assume – – that they will “inherit everything after I’m gone”. Generally, this can be a warm and reassuring moment between parent and child. But on occasion, this can be a bad thing.

As shocking as it may be, sometimes children kill their parents in an effort to get their inheritance early.

Fortunately, most states have a statute on the books that foils the financial payout of such plots. It’s called the “Slayer Law”. While state laws differ, the slayer rule generally provides that someone who kills another person forfeits their interest in that person’s estate. The public policy rationale is clear – – one should not be entitled to financially benefit from killing another person. Unfortunately, most evil doers are not aware of the statute.

Recently, an adult son and his roommate in California allegedly separately confessed to a third party to having plotted to kill the man’s parents to “collect and split his inheritance”. The father died from a gunshot wound to the chest but the mother survived a gunshot wound to the face. Both men were charged with “suspicion of murder and attempted murder”.

Application of the slayer rule is straightforward in many circumstances. But not in all cases. Depending on the wording of the statute and the way courts interpret that wording when examining each case’s particular facts, it is not always clear how or if the rule will be applied. For example, courts may not apply the slayer rule where the killing was unintentional or accidental or was committed in self-defense or by reason of insanity. If it does apply the rule, the affected estate assets generally pass as if the killer predeceased the victim.

Still, a light-hearted reference to the slayer rule may be wise when letting your beneficiaries know about their eventual inheritance and other estate planning details you may choose to share.

If you need assistance with an estate plan or have questions about the slayer rule or any other estate planning matter, the experts at Merlino & Gonzalez can help. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island, New York and East Brunswick, New Jersey, we represent clients throughout New York and New Jersey in estate planning and real estate matters.