Florida’s 4th District Court of Appeals recently decided the case of what to do with a will that left the murder’s children the victim’s estate. The trial court held the “slayer statute” did not affect the will, and did not find enough evidence of undue influence to invalidate the will, however, the appellate court did not agree.
The husband Ben was murdered in 2009 and the case became famous when his wife Narcy was arrested and convicted of the murder, and the murder of Ben’s mother, shortly after. The court opinion stated she murdered Ben to assure that she and her family would obtain his considerable wealth. Narcy had a daughter by another marriage, and this daughter had two sons. Narcy’s daughter and the two sons were to inherit Ben’s estate if Ben’s mother and Narcy passed away before Ben.
According to Florida Statute section 732.802, also known as the “slayer statute,” Narcy was not entitled to receive anything from Ben’s estate. This law first arose under the common law concept that no one should be permitted to benefit from his own wrong. The law today states that a surviving person who unlawfully and intentionally kills or participates in procuring the death of the decedent is not entitled to any benefits under the will or under the Florida Probate Code and the court will treat the killer as if he or she has passed away for purposes of the estate.
The appeal asked the court do consider two issues: did the slayer statute prevent Narcy’s heir’s from inheriting Ben’s estate, and should the will be invalidated because of undue influence.
To decide if the slayer rule should bar Narcy’s heirs from receiving the inheritance the court looked to In re Estate of Benson, 548 So. 2d 775 (Fla. 2d DCA 1989). In Benson, one of the children murdered his mother and another sibling. The mother’s will left her property to all three children and the murdered child died intestate, or without a will, and thus the estate would pass to the slayer and the third sibling. The court in that case ruled the plain language of the statute did not bar the heirs of the slayer from inheriting. The language of the statute only prohibits those from inheriting that took place in the killing or helped the killing to occur. Therefore, the appellate court here agreed with the trial court that the slayer rule should not prevent Narcy’s daughter from receiving the inheritance.
The appellate court did, however, disagree with the trial court regarding the validity of the will. The appellants argue that, although they have not alleged the step daughter or her children participated in unduly influencing Ben’s will, the entire will was tainted by Narcy’s actions. The appellants alleged that Narcy used “undue influence through duress, threats, physical attacks, home invasions and extortions” to cause Ben to sign two wills which completely altered his previous estate plan. The court here looked to other cases, which stated that an entire will can be invalidated in Florida if the undue influence is pervasive enough to permeate the entire will.
The court in this case thus felt that even though the slayer statute did not apply, the evidence of the alleged undue influence by the wife Narcy was enough to invalidate the will itself. While the issues presented in this case are not exactly common, it may call for Florida’s legislature to consider amending the slayer rule to prevent the slayer’s heirs from inheriting as well. For more information a will or other estate planning document can be invalidated by undue influence or other reasons, contact the Law Office of David M. Goldman PLLC today.