Slayer Statutes In The Spotlight

Slayer Statutes In The Spotlight

A recent sentencing reminds us of the need for these rules

On Tuesday, May 12, Diana Nadell was sentenced to 23 years in prison for the murder of her 80-year-old mother in law, Peggy Nadell. What makes this case particularly notable is that it features a fact pattern that’s extremely common in fiction, but exceedingly rare in real life—Diana Nadell murdered her mother in law for the inheritance. Peggy left an estate worth roughly $4 million, half of which would have gone to Diana and her husband, James.

The facts of the case are actually fairly convoluted, as Diana apparently recruited numerous co-conspirators in order to help her perpetrate the crime and to establish her alibi, but the central action involves Diana and an accomplice, Andrea Benson, who herself was sentenced to 20 years, convincing Peggy to allow them into her home at 1:17 AM on Jan. 25, 2014 (though Diana lives in Florida, she claimed to be in town for a wedding), and on gaining entry, the two proceeded to beat and stab Peggy to death. More complete details of the crime itself can be found here.

Although such crimes aren’t terribly common, there are laws in place to account for them, known colloquially as “slayer statutes.” The particulars of these rules vary from state to state, but the common denominator is the desire to prevent wrongdoers from profiting from their crimes. John Brooks and Jena Levin have written several interesting articles discussing the complications inherent in the various slayer rules around the country, which can be found herehere and here. New York’s (under whose law this case was tried) slayer rule actually isn’t statutory, but based in the common law equitable concept 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" (Riggs v. Palmer, 115 N.Y. 506, 511, 22 N.E. 188 (1886)).

As such, once Diana was found guilty of murdering Peggy, she was disqualified from realizing any gain from her crime. So, in her desire to accelerate the timetable by which she could get her hands on Peggy’s estate, Diana actually managed to prevent herself from ever receiving anything from the estate at all. Since her husband wasn’t implicated at all in the killing, it’s believed he’ll still inherit as normal. However, lest you be concerned that she'll just inherit the money from James, based on Matter of Edwards, N.Y.L.J., April 13, 2012, at 35 (Sur. Ct. Suffolk County), it appears that New York takes this concept one step further and not only prevents Diana from directly inheriting from Peggy, but also from indirectly inheriting the estate assets from any other person (aka James) as well. Though, as noted by Brooks and Levin in their aforementioned articles, while the intent of these rules may seem cut and dried, when applied to actual facts and projected across generations, they can become very complicated.

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