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When one joint tenant murders his or her cotenant, W.Va. Code § 42-4-2 (1931) controls who acquires or takes the property. W.Va. Code § 42-4-2 specifically states, in part, that the money or the property to which the person so convicted would otherwise have been entitled shall go to the person or persons who would have taken the same if the person so convicted had been dead at the date of the death of the one killed, unless by some rule of law or equity the money or the property would pass to some other person or persons. This plain statutory language clearly provides that upon the death of the victim, the total estate held in a joint tenancy passes in its entirety to the person or persons who would have taken the same if the slayer had predeceased the victim.
The decedent and her husband owned two parcels of land as joint tenants with the right of survivorship. The husband murdered the wife and their children. The decedent died intestate, and her only heirs were the husband and the decedent's parents. Shortly after he committed the murders, the husband conveyed without consideration the two properties he held in joint tenancy with the decedent to defendant, the husband's mother. The husband's mother conveyed the two properties to a straw party. Contemporaneously, the straw party conveyed the property to the husband and his mother by deed of even date therewith. Appellants, decedent’s parents, filed a complaint in circuit court, seeking partition of the parcels of land owned in joint tenancy by the decedent and the husband. The court denied the request. On appeal, the appellants contended that they were entitled to partition of the properties because West Virginia law prohibits the husband from profiting from the murder of his wife.
Under the circumstances, was the decedent’s husband entitled to obtain the property owned in joint tenancy?
The court held that the trial court erred in finding that the decedent's estate had no interest in the joint tenancies. Because the husband murdered his cotenant, under W.Va. Code § 42-4-2 (1931), he was not entitled to obtain the property due to his wrong.