Can you kill someone and still inherit their NY estate under the NY estate law? Estate of Wallace

Believe it or not, as a NY estate lawyer the issue of murder, inheritance rights and their implications comes up more than you would think.  Recently, 56 year old Milo Wallace was found guilty by a jury of the first degree murders of his mother and brother for purposes of collecting his inheritance, mainly his mother’s residence where he resided.  Wallace was also convicted in the attempted murder of his sister-in-law who managed to escape.  Wallace was sentenced to two life sentences with an additional 67 year sentence for the attempted murder charge for the sister-in-law.

So what would make someone become a serial killer?  The simple answer is greed.  Milo Wallace resided with his 77 year old mother Sandra Wallace in her home.  Milo Wallace was one of three children and was afraid if something happened to his mother the property would be sold and its proceeds split amongst himself and his siblings.  Afraid of losing his home, a property Milo felt emotionally entitled to without any legal basis for that belief, Milo unfortunately decided to take matters into his own hands, opting instead for insanity over rationality.  While as a NY estate lawyer I can appreciate how emotionally attached children can become to their parents’ real estate, violence is never the answer.  First of all, Milo hurt the people who probably cared about him most and is currently serving the rest of his horrible life in back to back triple prison sentences. Secondly, Milo will not be inheriting the house anyway.

As a NY estate lawyer the largest asset of a NY estate is usually the family home which unfortunately cannot be cleanly divided amongst several heirs.  The pragmatic approach to real estate within a NY estate is to liquidate the property and distribute the proceeds according to the decedent’s wishes. Unfortunately this reality is often times met with resistance by one or more heirs who have grown attached to the family residence or may reside within the property as in the case above.  However this resistance usually fades and sensibility usually prevails.

However what happens when sensibility is abandoned for violence under the NY estate law?

As a NY estate lawyer I wish I could tell you that people were inherently good natured and did not kill one another in order to enhance their inheritance.  For the most part this is the case but occasionally something sinister can occur. In fact murder has been such a persistent issue within NY estate law, that the legislature and courts developed the need to draft and enforce the “slayer statute”.   According to the “slayer statute”, what NYC estate lawyers know as EPTL 5-4.3(a), a person is disqualified from inheriting any portion of estate proceeds derived from a death they either directly or indirectly caused, excluding accidents.  In other words nobody shall be permitted to profit by his or her own fraud or wrongful act to acquire property by their own crime.  And historically, this included murder which comes up from time to time.  In prior years the slayer statute did not include involuntary acts of murder such as involuntary manslaughter or persons found not guilty by reason of insanity. But in the last decade NY’s Surrogate Courts have expanded upon the slayer statute in cases such as Matter of Demesyeux, 42 Misc. 3d. 730 (Surr. Crt Nassau County 2013) to include acts that were not premeditated or intentional. The NY estate law is no stranger to the slayer statute which dates back to the historic 1889 case of Riggs v. Palmer, 115 NY 506 (1889).  The Court in Riggs., denied the decedent’s grandson his half of his grandfather’s probatable NY estate after the grandson was convicted of the murder of said grandfather.  In conclusion, murdering someone in an attempt to accelerate or enhance your share of inheritance from a NY estate is a bad idea.  First, the odds are very high you will be caught and will have to go to prison.  Secondly, if you are found to have caused the death of someone either directly or even indirectly you will most likely lose all inheritance rights under the NY estate law anyway.

If you or someone you love is the heir to a NY estate, you may have rights under the NY estate law.  Feel free to call an experienced NY estate lawyer at The Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates, at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.  Our Queens estate lawyers have 60 years of combined NY estate law experience handling these often complex NY estate cases for heirs in the counties of Queens, New York, Kings, Bronx, Westchester, Rockland, Nassau, Richmond, Orange and Dutchess.

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