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Estate Planning Newsletter

When a Decedent's Killer is Also an Heir

If a person murders a relative, is he/she entitled to receive any of the victim’s property? In most cases, the answer would be “no.” Usually, a convicted killer cannot inherit a victim’s property, even if he/she is a rightful heir or a named beneficiary.

Required Characteristics

To lose all rights to the dead relative’s property, the criminal court will need to find that a killer:

  • Intentionally and feloniously killed the person
  • Was legally sane at the time of the murder

Even if a person is not convicted of murder in criminal court, he/she may still lose rights to the dead person’s property if the probate court finds that he/she is responsible for the person’s death.

Forfeited Rights

Once the above are established, then the killer is treated as having “predeceased” the murdered person. This means that any rights the killer once had to the decedent’s estate are passed to whomever is next in line to inherit or manage the estate (as if the killer never existed as an heir).

The killer will therefore lose all rights to his/her share of the following:

  • Separate, joint, or quasi-community property
  • Bond or life insurance benefits
  • Any nomination as executor, trustee, guardian, or conservator in the decedent’s will or trust

Other Forfeiture

If the killer pleads guilty to involuntary manslaughter (instead of being found guilty of murder), he/she may not be viewed as being innocent and may still lose all rights to the decedent’s property.

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