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A bad seed indeed: There's a fine line between slayer and heir

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide a case this term about the three-drug protocol used in lethal injection executions. The appellants are from Oklahoma, but Pennsylvania is not a stranger to death penalty issues. A shortage of the necessary drugs, reaching a milestone of 250 death penalty reversals in September 2014, the release of studies showing the costs of the death penalty to the state -- Pennsylvania, like other states, has been struggling with how and whether to execute the people sitting on death row.

We may not know what to do with inmates awaiting execution, but we are certain of one thing we do not want them to do: profit from their crime. Pennsylvania and the overwhelming majority of other states has adopted a "slayer statute" that prevents that from happening. It isn't often, perhaps fortunately, that we see the slayer statute in action.

A high-profile murder in New York has focused attention on the rule and the legal issues that result if an heir or beneficiary is also responsible for the testator's death. The testator here was Thomas Gilbert Sr., the founder of a hedge fund. The heir is his son, Thomas Jr.

Police arrested the younger Gilbert within hours of his father's shooting death. The question now is whether the state's slayer statute will apply in this case, or whether Gilbert will share his father's $1.6 million estate.

Criminal cases often turn on the intentions of the accused. If the heir intentionally causes the death of the testator or grantor, probate laws operate as if the heir had predeceased the testator.

How does that work? We'll explain in our next post.

Sources:

Investment News, "Shocking NYC murder highlights need for estate planning contingencies," Darla Mercado, Jan. 16, 2015

Death Penalty Information Center: Pennsylvania, at DeathPenaltyInfo.org

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