A 74-year-old woman and two houseguests were murdered on Thanksgiving Day 2010. Because no one could produce an original copy of her will, the probate court in her state (not Florida) must apply the laws of intestacy. The woman's son now stands to inherit half of her estate -- that is, if he isn't found guilty of the murders first.
Most states, including Florida, have a "Slayer Statute" that prohibits a person from benefitting from a death he or she has caused. This is the statute that keeps convicted murderers from raking in the money by writing about their crimes -- think "Son of Sam" -- as well as from inheriting from their victims, a la Narcy Novack.
Slayer statutes do not, however, prevent an exonerated defendant from profiting from the crime he or she was accused of. O.J. Simpson was found not guilty by a jury. Years later he wrote "If I Did It," a fictionalized account of what might have happened if he had murdered his wife and her friend. The book was controversial not only because it was in questionable taste, but because a civil jury had found Simpson liable for the two murders. Acquitted of the crime, but civilly liable -- where does the slayer statute fit in?
The statutes in both Florida and the state where the 2010 murders occurred have at least a partial answer if the defendant is acquitted. The laws allow an interested party to challenge any disbursements or distribution of property to the accused. The way the law has developed in his state, though, would require different filings in different courts perhaps even by different petitioners.
And who exactly is an interested party? We'll finish this up in our next post.
Source: The Hartford Courant, "Accused Killer Could Benefit From Slain Mother's Estate," David Owens and Christine Dempsey, Dec. 1, 2012
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