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  • Writer's pictureJenny Rozelle, Host of Legal Tea

Current Trends - Slayer's Rule, What is it? - Episode 152

Hey there, Legal Tea Listeners –This is your host, Jenny Rozelle. Welcome back for another episode of Legal Tea! Today is a “current trends” topic where we talk about things going on currently that are relevant and pertinent to my estate and elder law world, and/or maybe things I’ve seen on the news or stumbled across on social media. Well, on today’s “current trends” episode, it involves, well KIND OF, involves a name that everyone knows – Taylor Swift. So, Taylor Swift has a song and it’s called Anti-Hero. Unless you have lived under a rock, I’m sure you have heard of this song – or even on the radio. It plays in grocery stories, at games, etc. Even if you don’t recognize the song name, you would likely recognize the song if you heard it. Anyway, in this Anti-Hero song, she has a few lines in it that read or sing (I won’t sing … I’ll save your ears) as follows:

“I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money,She thinks I left them in the Will,The family gathers ‘round and reads it and then someone screams out,“She’s laughing up at us from hell!”

I had not really paid too much attention to the words of the song, until one day, I was in the car and traveling to one of our satellite offices. I was, sort of, mindlessly listening. That part of the song happened and I was like, “Did I just hear what I think I heard?” So, of course, I get to my destination and eagerly start Google’ing the lyrics. Son of a gun, I did hear right! Any time I hear little things like this, I always think, “Ohhh can I talk about this on my podcast?!” And, it hit me – light bulb! I could talk about the Slayer Rule in light of what the lyrics say.

So, what is the Slayer Rule, Jenny? Well, in much less legalese, the Slayer Rule basically says that you cannot murder someone and benefit from them, like in terms of an inheritance – you can’t “gain” something by murdering them. That’s bad, bad, bad. And that, like, makes sense – we don’t want people hitting tough times and thinking, “Well heck, Granny is 95 and it’s time for her to go because I need some money.” That’s awful, right?

Now, the infamous Slayer Rule is present in every state – but every state handles and processes the Rule, in conjunction with estate law, by their respective state laws. Though, if I had to guess, I bet every state is fairly similar because the main principle that we’re trying to keep in mind is what I just said – we don’t want people to think it’s socially acceptable to murder, then inherit who they murdered. Some states call it the Slayer Rule, some call it the Slayer Statute. Tomato, tomato!

For sake of this podcast being based in the State of Indiana, I primarily focused things on how this State deals with this Rule. The Slayer Statute, Slayer Rule here in Indiana can be found under our Indiana’s Code’s Probate Code – and specifically, it deals with this sort of thing kind of uniquely and actually, in 1983, a case went to the Court of Appeals here in Indiana to “test” how our Indiana Slayer Rule works. That case was Turner versus Estate of Turner and so we’re clear and get a firm understanding of things, let’s talk a little about the FACTS and what happened in this case so we can better grasp the Slayer Rule.

So, in this case, a son, Allen, shot and killed his parents in Johnson County, Indiana. The son, the following day, was charged with their murders. Through all the hustle bustle, Allen was actually found NOT responsible for the deaths by reason of insanity. This is an important thing to remember as we get through this episode – so, while he was CHARGED, he was not CONVICTED.

So talking about the parents’ Estate … it was uncovered that his parents did not have an estate plan – no Wills, nothin’. So, their Estate went by the intestate laws, which are the laws that govern when someone passes away without a Will, and those laws say their Estate goes to their three children – Linda, Janet, and Allen (the latter being the one that killed them). After their parents passed, Linda and Janet were appointed by the Court as the Estate’s Executors – once the initial paperwork shuffle was done, Linda and Janet, as Executors, asked the Court to terminate Allen’s right to inherit any portion of their parents’ Estate; therefore, they were saying that he shouldn’t receive his share … given what he did. They made this argument based on Indiana’s version of the Slayer Rule.

The Court heard their argument and sided with them – meaning that, the Court said “Nope – Allen doesn’t get anything given what he did.” Well, Allen appealed their decision to try and get a different outcome. Would you believe me if I told you that the Court of Appeals DID come to a different conclusion – and said that Allen SHOULD be entitled to his share of his parents’ Estate? Well, believe it – because that’s exactly what happened. Why? WELL, they hung their hat on that our state’s Slayer Rule requires an actual conviction – and here, Allen was not convicted. He was charged, but ultimately found not guilty by reason of insanity. So, they basically said that because of his lack of conviction, the Slayer Rule is not even applicable.

The Court, in coming to their decision, analyzed several other states’ decisions with similar facts. Like, in New Jersey, at least according to this 1983 decision (not sure if New Jersey has changed their statutes since this), New Jersey’s Slayer Rule requires a showing that the killing was intentional. Though, in a New Jersey case that interpreted this statute, they found that someone who was found NOT guilty of murder by reason of insanity could NOT be said to have done the act intentionally meaning the killer COULD keep their share in their victim’s Estate. The Court even referenced a very similar case in New York – wife killed husband, she was found NOT guilty of murder by reason of insanity, because of that she did not know the nature/quality of her action, and she was able to keep what she received from her husband’s Estate. Minnesota, Florida, Texas and California have similar cases like New Jersey and New York, which allowed the killer to take under the victim’s Estate.

So, it seems that Indiana followed the trend of these States – At the end of the Court of Appeals opinion, it shares, “The result we reach, while firmly grounded in legal precedent, may prove unpalatable to some. However, it is not our office to find the law one way and hold to the contrary. If law as it now exists is in need of change, that task is for the legislature.”

I don’t disagree. If the letter of the law says X, then the Court’s responsibility is to take the facts of a case and analyze against X – it’s not the Court’s responsibility to change X … to Y. That’s our Legislature’s responsibility.

On a somewhat random side note, but related side note – I’ve been doin’ this estate and elder law stuff for over ten years now and I’ve seen a lot. I’ve worked on a lot. I’ve heard a lot. Not to say I’ve seen everything, because I know better to say that. But! I actually have worked on an estate case involving a murder. Crazy, right? Well, it involved someone, let’s call her Sheila, killed her family member, Barbara, and then after killing Barbara, Sheila committed suicide. Long story short, in that case, Sheila’s siblings asked the Court to not send Sheila’s share of Barbara’s Estate to Sheila’s Estate (since Sheila killed Barbara). They succeeded – Sheila’s Estate did not get any part of Barbara’s Estate. Why is this case different than the case earlier I talked about – well, since Sheila committed suicide, Sheila wasn’t charged and obviously nor convicted (since she was not charged).

So back to Allen’s case – well, Allen’s sisters, Linda and Janet, actually argued against Allen’s position (Allen’s position being that because he was not convicted b reason of insanity, that he COULD receive his parents’ Estate share) and Linda and Janet cited a case that was very similar to the case I actually just shared – it was not THAT case, but super similar facts…

In that case, a husband killed his wife, and then the husband committed suicide. In doing so, he avoided prosecution and like the case I actually worked on, he was not charged nor convicted. The Supreme Court, in this case (about the husband and wife), ultimately said that the husband’s Estate should not receive any benefit from his wife’s Estate, regardless of a conviction or NOT (and here, there was not of course). In their opinion, they anchored to interpreting the Slayer Rule, but sort of adding in a dose of equity to the statute. So, if I interpret all of this, the biggest difference is that if the killer survives and if the killer is charged, but is not convicted due to reason of insanity (meaning he/she didn’t understand the quality and nature of his/her act), the killer may be able to take under the victim’s Estate; But if the killer IS convicted -OR- is NOT convicted, but due to a reason like the killer committed suicide, the killer can NOT take under the victim’s Estate. And perfect time for a reminder – every Court can interpret things differently and every State can make different rules.

Soooo, if we go all the way back to the beginning and talking about ol’ Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero song lyrics, ““I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money, She thinks I left them in the Will…” What do you think now about these lyrics? My brain first goes to … Okay it’s a daughter-IN-LAW … meaning if it’s the in-law and not the actual child … if it’s the daughter-in-law, would the victim’s CHILD not be able to inherit given everything we just learned, if the child didn’t actually do the murder?! Would that be a case of first impression if something like that happened?

Heck, there’s probably a case out there somewhere where the in-law killed … so that would be the first level to analyze. The relationship between the killer and victim (and would the actual child be “punished” for what the child’s spouse did). The second level would be the conviction prong – is the in-law convicted? If yes, Slayer Rule would likely apply and say the killer can’t inherit; if not, why was the in-law not convicted? By reason of insanity … because they had committed suicide – we talked about both situations here. Shew …. A lot to think about and analyze, huh! Thanks for the contribution, T-Swift, on bringing this topic up for us here at Legal Tea to dive into!

Okay, let’s wrap this episode up! Next week, we’re back to the “celebrity estate planning” type of episode – and during those types of episodes, we dive into a celebrity or “big name” person that has passed away and how their estate looked from an estate planning perspective. Next week’s episode is someone that needs no introduction … Marilyn Monrie. Everyone knows who Marilyn is! Tune in to an episode on her and her estate next week, Legal Tea Listeners, talk to you then and stay well!


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