You have probably seen at least one murder mystery movie where a wealthy individual is killed for their money, typically by an heir. It is a fairly common trope for impatient heirs to take matters into their own hands in order to get their share of a high-value estate faster. Sadly, this trope does sometimes play out in real life. You may have seen one of many true crime shows feature a terrifying episode where a person marries a wealthy individual, intending to murder their spouse and claim the entire marital estate. Certainly, few would want their killer to inherit anything at all. This is where “slayer statutes” come into play. In general, these laws prevent murderers from inheriting any part of their victim’s estate.
What if the Killer Does Not Get Convicted?
If the alleged slayer does get convicted of the murder, this establishes conclusive evidence that they are barred from inheriting. However, it is not necessary. To convict a person of a crime, the state must prove “beyond reasonable doubt” that the defendant committed the crime. However, to activate the slayer statute and bar the killer from inheriting, one need only show that it was more likely than not that the murder occurred as alleged.
What if the Decedent Had an Estate Plan Making the Slayer a Beneficiary?
There is something of a legal presumption that the victim would have changed their mind about leaving anything to their killer, but was robbed of the opportunity to do so. In this case, the victim’s will or trust will be overridden. The estate will be administered as if the slayer were deceased.
What if the Killing Was an Accident, or Justified?
This changes things. The slayer statute only activates when there was an intentional murder. The slayer has to have caused the death of the estate owner on purpose. If, for example, a husband is driving too fast and causes an accident that kills his wife, this would not fall under the slayer statute. However, if the husband in this example purposely crashes his wife’s side of the car into a tree intending to kill her, that would fall under the slayer statute.
Similarly, if the killing was committed in lawful self-defense, it does not bar the slayer from inheriting. If a wife is chasing her husband with an ax threatening to kill him, and he shoots her in self-defense, the husband can still inherit from his wife. However, if the wife merely throws a sponge at her husband, shooting her in self-defense would not be legally justified – and would bar the husband from inheriting.
In short – killing someone in an effort to speed up an inheritance generally does not work.
Contact an Illinois Estate Planning Attorney
A. Traub & Associates can assist with a wide variety of concerns surrounding estate planning and administration. Our experienced Lombard estate planning lawyers offer a complete range of services from creating trusts to representing beneficiaries. Contact us at 630-426-0196 for a free consultation.