Slayer Statutes and Inheritance

Like something out of a made for television movie, last week a woman was sentenced to 23 years in prison for the murder of her eighty year old mother-in-law for the inheritance. It is one of the rare times that a set of laws known as the “slayer statutes” has been applied to a criminal case but serves to highlight the importance of these laws. These statutes prevent a person who has murdered another from inheriting from their victim’s estate.

Facts of the Case

In this case, Diana Nadell was arrested and convicted of the murder of her mother-in-law, Peggy Nadell. The reason behind the killing was that Diana wished to obtain the inheritance from Peggy’s estate, which was worth a little over $4 million. Diana and her husband were expected to inherit half of the estate, but Diana could not wait for her mother-in-law to pass away naturally.

According to the trial, Diana attempted to recruit a number of co-conspirators to help her with the crime before Andrea Benson agreed to help establish her alibi and perpetrate the crime. Under the guise of traveling to Peggy’s hometown for a wedding, the two women convinced Peggy to allow them into the home before beating and stabbing her to death. For her role in the crime, Ms. Benson was sentenced to twenty years in prison.

Slayer Statutes and Estates

Known colloquially as “slayer statutes,” these laws were enacted to prevent heirs from killing those they were set to inherit from in order to obtain the inheritance earlier. The slayer statutes vary from state to state, but the common theme is that a person cannot inherit from someone that they murder specifically to inherit early. The laws are meant to prevent a wrongdoer from profiting from their crime. In addition, slayer statutes also apply to other types of inheritance outside of a will, such as pensions, employee benefits, life insurance policies, and the like.

In this case, New York’s slayer statutes applied to the case, and their laws are based on common law rulings instead of black and white statutes. Under New York law, the equitable concept is that “no one should be able to profit by his own fraud, take advantage of his own wrong or found any claim upon his own iniquity, or acquire property by his own crime.” Applied to Diana’s case, she is now not allowed to inherit any money from Peggy’s estate.

Diana undermined her own ability to inherit by perpetrating the killing of the person that she was set to inherit from. Because her husband is the biological son of Peggy and was not implicated in the crime, he can still inherit normally from his mother’s estate. However, New York law prevents a person convicted under the slayer statute from indirectly inheriting the money from anyone else. Therefore, Diana is also prevented from inheriting any of the money from Peggy’s estate that was passed down to her husband.

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