It is generally understood that the slayer statute protects a persons belongings and funds when they are slain by a beneficiary of their estate. That passing may be the result of natural causes, a fatal car or work accident, or an illness. Sadly, there are cases where the death may be the result of malicious or criminal actions. Although it is not necessarily common, there have been several cases in which a person kills another with the intent to collect their life insurance or other benefits. You may have seen various instances on crime and investigation shows, where a family member dies and the bad actor, or “slayer”, is eventually discovered to be a family member. The common law history is that someone who kills another person should not benefit financially from that terrible act.
What is the Slayer Statute?
The Slayer Statute, N.J.S.A. §3B:7-1.1, et seq., is a law that works to prevent the killers, or those responsible for the death of another, from receiving benefits (including life insurance, assets, and property), from the individual they caused the death of. Typically, these cases involve the children or spouses of an individual harming them to the point of death, then attempting to collect financial benefits. These may be benefits in the individual’s Will, as a designated beneficiary of a life insurance policy or retirement account, or under the intestacy laws of the State. The language of the statute states it is for “the intentional killing”, which normally involves a criminal investigation.
In an effort to prevent injustice and potentially discourage such terrible acts, the Slayer Statute was established. The benefits that were originally going to the slayer will go to a contingent or secondary beneficiary. In the case that property was owned jointly by the deceased and the slayer, the slayer will still have ownership over half of the property. However, their partner’s half would not pass to the Slayer.
Typically, for this to work, the property and assets that were meant to be received by the slayer will be moved into an escrow account until the individual is either convicted or acquitted for murder. If they are found innocent, they will receive benefits. If not, they will lose access to them. It is important to note that there are often disputes over someone’s passing and there normally has to be a guilty plea or some other type of written admission, for the act to be enforced.
If one of your loved ones has passed and there are questions or suspicions regarding the manner in which they passed, it is important to promptly investigate and notify the police. Often Court action may be required to prevent transfer of certain financial accounts, particularly if the manner of passing is under investigation. In New Jersey, the Chancery Division – Probate Part, of the Superior Court would hear a claim regarding the Slayer Statute applying to an Estate.
Should you have any questions regarding how to protect the Estate and assets of a family member who has passed, or have suspicions as to whether the passing was natural, or otherwise, please do not hesitate to contact Ward, Shindle & Hall.