How Florida’s “Slayer Statute” Prevents Killers From Inheriting From Their Victim’s Estates
There’s a popular trope in crime fiction about a person killing their spouse “to collect the insurance money.” In reality, a person cannot inherit anything from a person that they murdered or otherwise killed in an unlawful manner. Most states, including Florida, have what is commonly called a “Slayer Statute” to prevent this sort of thing.
Section 732.802 of the Florida Statutes contains the substance of the state’s Slayer Statute. The basic provisions can be summarized as follows:
- A person who unlawfully and intentionally kills the decedent cannot receive any benefits from the decedent’s estate, either under the decedent’s will or Florida’s intestacy statute, which governs estates without a will.
- Similarly, if the killer and the decedent owned property as joint tenants, the joint tenancy and any attached survivorship rights are severed. This applies not just to real estate but other types of jointly owned property such as bank accounts.
- If the killer was named as a beneficiary of the decedent’s life insurance policy, the insurance company will not pay any benefits to the killer.
In all of these scenarios, the law basically acts as if the killer predeceased the decedent. One thing to note, however, is that the Slayer Statute only bars the actual killer from inheriting. It does not extend to other family members who were not involved in the decedent’s death. The Florida Fourth District Court of Appeals addressed this issue in a 2015 case, Fiel v. Hoffman, where that court held the law did not “bar the children and grandchildren of the murderer from inheriting under the decedent’s will.”
Another thing worth noting is that the Florida legislature recently extended the provisions of the Slayer Statute to bar inheritance by individuals found to have committed abuse, neglect, exploitation, or aggravated manslaughter against an elderly or disabled person.
Is a Criminal Conviction Necessary?
For purposes of the Slayer Statute, a “final judgment of conviction of murder in any degree” is sufficient to bar the killer from taking anything from the decedent’s estate. But a criminal conviction is not necessary to invoke the Slayer Statute. If there was no criminal charge or conviction for any reason, the statute still permits a court to determine “determine by the greater weight of the evidence whether the killing was unlawful and intentional for purposes” of barring inheritance.
Similarly, in cases where a party engaged in abuse, neglect, exploitation, or aggravated manslaughter against an elderly or disabled person, a prior judgment of such acts creates a “rebuttable presumption” that inheritance should be barred. But even absent such a prior qualifying conviction, the probate court can make such findings postmortem based on “the greater weight of the evidence.”
If you have additional questions or concerns about how Florida law may affect a person’s inheritance rights and would like to speak with a qualified St. Petersburg probate litigation attorney, contact Legacy Protection Lawyers, LLP, today to schedule a consultation.