Legal quirks show need for being precise in a will
You are the chief beneficiary of a will. Trouble is, you killed the person who wrote the will. Can you still get the money?
You’d think not. Certainly the law says you shouldn’t. The forfeiture rule states an offender cannot benefit from their crime. Therefore the victim’s estate should be distributed as if the killer had never existed.
But Joshua Crowther, a specialist in wills at Stacks Law Firm, says all is not so clear. Section 6 of the Forfeiture Act allows a court to modify the effect of this rule if the court finds the killer did not have the mental capacity to have killed with intent.
For example, in 1998 there was a landmark case in which a woman with a mental illness killed her grandmother. She pleaded guilty to manslaughter, and the court found her mental illness at the time diminished her mental responsibility for the crime.
When it came to the grandmother’s will, the court ruled the killer was entitled to be a beneficiary as she had no intention to profit from the crime. The court noted the benefit the granddaughter would obtain from the crime would at most be a very short acceleration of her entitlement under the elderly grandmother’s will.
In another case a court considered how much of an estate had been accumulated by the killer in making a decision as to whether the forfeiture rule should be modified in favour of the killer.
This doesn’t mean you need to add the provision “unless he/she kills me” when you name a beneficiary in your will. But as Joshua Crowther says, there are many quirks in the laws governing wills and estates, and it’s best to have experienced legal advice when you draw up a will. It’s important to be very precise so that you can be sure your inheritance goes to those you want it to go to.
The law can open the door for “eligible” people who miss out to challenge a will including spouse, de facto, biological or adopted children, step-children, a former spouse, a dependent of the deceased, a grandchild, a person who was part of the deceased’s household, and someone who was in a “close personal relationship”.
What if you have an accident and receive large compensation but you lack the capacity to write a will? Intestacy laws apply, meaning it will first go to the spouse, then children, parents and siblings. But what if the accident victim hates them? Relatives can apply for a court-made will to override intestacy lines, but evidence will have to be provided to exclude them.
For more information, please see If I cover up a murder, can I inherit from the victim’s estate?