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David Toback, Attorney at Law
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How Far Does Florida’s Slayer Statute Reach?

It sounds like a plot from a poorly written movie: Someone with something to inherit murders the person leaving the property in order to obtain the inheritance. Common sense tells us that aside from the obvious illegality of the homicide, the person doing the murdering probably shouldn’t inherit the property they sought to inherit.

And Florida does have what is known as a “slayer statute,” which generally says that someone can’t inherit from someone whose death he caused. But a recent case has addressed the sticky question of a murderer’s relatives, and whether they can inherit property, assuming they had nothing to do with the murder.

Family of Murderer Stands to Inherit

The case involves a wife who murdered her husband in order to obtain his inheritance. The wife had children of another marriage who were named in the husband’s will. Ordinarily, the children would have stood to inherit the property, given the husband was dead, and the wife would be ineligible to inherit due to killing the husband.

But the husband had his own relatives, and they challenged the wife’s relatives’ ability to inherit anything under the Slayer Statute, even though they did not have any part in the husband’s murder. They argued that the murderer, by having her relatives be able to inherit, indirectly benefits the murderer, in contrast to the intention of the statute, which is to prevent someone who does wrong from benefiting in any way from that wrong.

Court Allows Inheritance

The trial court determined that the wife’s relatives were able to inherit property, as the Slayer Statute said nothing about disinheriting anybody other than the killer. In fact, the law doesn’t even prohibit someone who kills someone else under circumstances of manslaughter (different than murder). Thus, the court reasoned, it couldn’t be interpreted to bar the relatives of someone who murders from inheriting so long as they were blameless.

The appellate court agreed with the trial court, finding the language of the Slayer Statute clear and unambiguous in its restriction of only the murderer – not blameless family members – from inheriting. Interpreting the statute any other way, the court felt, would be adding language that wasn’t there.

If the legislature believes that relatives inheriting is an indirect benefit, the court felt that it would have to address that through legislation. The court refused to rule on what was essentially a public policy issue and not a legal one.

It’s not impossible to imagine that a case like this will have some impact. Often, someone who commits a murder may have relatives that have nothing to do with the tragedy. With this case, there can at least be some assurance that those who aren’t responsible for the crime aren’t punished for it.

Florida’s probate and estate laws can be complex. Contact Tampa business and probate attorney David Toback to discuss your needs and make sure you understand how to protect your inheritance and make sure your estate plan says what you want it to say.

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