What happens to a decedent’s estate if the decedent was feloniously and intentionally killed by another person who has an interest or share in the estate? Would a killer still take from the decedent’s estate or not? This question is not one that most people want to think about, but the issue comes up, and the law has a perspective on handling it.
How Does Michigan Law Deal with Killers and Victims’ Estates?
Michigan has a version of the “slayer statute”, which deals with probate situations in which an interested person kills the decedent. In order to preclude taking from the decedent’s estate under the slayer statute, the killing must have been felonious and intentional. Voluntary manslaughter counts as intentional.
If found to have committed a felonious and intentional killing, the slayer would be precluded from taking any part of the decedent’s estate including intestate (died without a will) share, elective share, omitted spouse’s or child’s share, homestead allowance, family allowance, and exempted property. In particular, if the decedent died without a will, then the share the slayer would have gotten would pass to next of kin as if the slayer had disclaimed his or her right to that share. A felonious and intentional killing has the effect of revoking appointment or disposition of property in a will or trust and revoking any power of appointment the killer would have had. Furthermore, the killer would be precluded from serving in a fiduciary or representative role — including executor, trustee, or agent.
Any joint tenancy with right of survivorship interest would be transformed into a tenancy in common interest. This means the killer, if having a joint tenancy interest with right of survivorship, would not automatically take the decedent’s interest. Most commonly, married spouses are joint tenants with right of survivorship.
How Do You Conclusively Establish a Felonious and Intentional Killing?
The clearest way is to obtain a conviction against the killer establishing criminal culpability for a felonious and intentional killing of the decedent. However, all rights to appeal must be exhausted.
If there is no conviction, then an interested person can petition the court to determine whether or not the accused would be culpable under the preponderance of the evidence standard. If so, then the accused is conclusively considered the felonious and intentional killer of the decedent for purposes of distributing the decedent’s estate.
What Is the Reasoning Behind the Slayer Statute?
The reasoning and purpose behind this rule is a moral one and a simple one. We do not want to give slayers benefits stemming from the person they killed. It would be wrong to allow a slayer to still have a viable interest in inheritance when they are the reason that person is dead. After all, we do not want to provide a motivation for or encourage killing people to expedite inheritance.
In fact, the statute contains language that serves as a catch-all for a killer’s other “wrongful acquisition(s) of property” from the decedent not specifically captured by the slayer statute provisions. This catch-all says that for all other such wrongful acquisitions of property or interest, the acquisitions would be handled with the general principle in mind that “a killer or felon cannot profit from his or her wrong” In fact, sometimes this catch-all exception can be used to prevent a wrongdoer from profiting from the death that he or she caused, even without meeting the “felonious and intentional” standard that is normally required.
BRMM Probate Litigation Attorneys Provide Proven, Experienced Representation
If you or a loved one has questions about properly planning disposition of estate property or interests or about protecting property or interests in the face of wrongdoing, our Michigan probate litigation and estate planning law firm can help. Just this summer, BRMM attorneys won an important victory using the slayer statute for a case in Washtenaw County probate court. You can contact our probate litigation and estate planning attorneys for a free consultation today at (248) 213-9514 or by filling out our online form.