Tragic New York Murder Case, Inheritance, & “Son of Sam” Laws

What happens if someone who intentionally causes a death is due to inherit from the person who died? Is the wrongdoer still able to profit from his or her actions?

In general, the answer would be negative. New York passed a statute known as the “Son of Sam” Law which essentially prevents a criminal from profiting from their crimes. This state law overlaps with a long-ago established common law principle known as the “slayer rule” which more directly affects inheritance issues, preventing someone convicted of causing a death to then profit by inheriting from the deceased person.

These rules are not new. But sometimes unique cases pop up which are hard to fit perfectly into the older rules, usually sparking legal challenges.

For example, consider a 2011 case from Suffolk County. A man attacked and killed his mother-in-law. He was sent to prison. Later, the man was set to inherit a large sum from his wife’s estate–the daughter of the woman he killed. Much of his wife’s assets were received directly from the mother–who had left her entire estate to her daughter via a will.

There was not a straightforward answer to this question, because the killer would not be profiting directly from his crimes. Instead, he would receive the assets indirectly. Does the slayer rule cover this case? Eventually, a New York court in this case ruled that the slayer rule was expansive enough to bar a killer accessing any of the victim’s property, even if inherited indirectly.

Recently, yet another New York case is making headlines on another potential “loophole.” Several years ago a young mother in Long Island drowned all three of her children in a bathtub. She was arrested and put on trial, however, she was found not guilty because of mental disease or defect. She has since been living in a psychiatric facility.

Now the mother is seeking a part of the children’s $350,000 estate. Those funds were received as a part of a legal settlement with a local social service agency after questions arose regarding their conduct which may have prevented the incident.

But doesn’t the slayer rule and Son of Sam laws bar her inheriting? If she was convicted of the murders, then yes. However, the woman was deemed not responsible because of her mental state, leaving open the possibility that the rule barring inheritance does not apply to her. A hearing on the matter is set for next month.

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