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What are slayer statutes?

Slayer statutes are laws that block a person from receiving an inheritance when that person murders whom he or she stands to inherit from. The laws also set out what should happen to the planned estate distribution in this event.

Slayer statutes have been in the news recently after a New York man was accused of murdering his father, whom he stood to inherit a third of a million-dollar estate from. Hedge fund founder Thomas Gilbert Sr. was shot and killed in his Manhattan apartment on Jan. 4, and his 30-year-old son, Thomas Gilbert Jr., was arrested and charged with the murder shortly thereafter. 

According to reports, the Gilbert father had recently reduced the Gilbert son’s weekly allowance, which some say was his motivation for the killing. Slayer statutes are in place to prevent heirs or beneficiaries from reaping financial benefits after committing murder.

Essentially, slayer statutes typically treat murderous heirs as if they had died before the person they killed. The statutes apply to wills, inheritances through intestate, beneficiary designations, and non-probate transfers, according to a law professor at Hofstra Law School.

However, whether the slayer statute applies depends on a murder conviction. The professor explained that the probate court bases its decision the outcome of the criminal case. If a murder conviction is handed down then the slayer statute applies.

But with a manslaughter conviction, which involves a non-premeditated murder, the killer may not be barred from his or her inheritance. States also vary in their laws, the professor said. Massachusetts’ slayer statute can be found here and applies to first degree murder, second degree murder and manslaughter. It does not apply to vehicular homicide or negligent manslaughter.

Source: Investment News, “Shocking NYC murder highlights need for estate planning contingencies,” Daria Mercado, Jan. 16, 2014

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