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Riggs v. Palmer - 115 N.Y. 506, 22 N.E. 188 (1889)


All laws as well as all contracts may be controlled in their operation and effect by general, fundamental maxims of the common law. No one shall be permitted to profit by his own fraud, or to take advantage of his own wrong, or to found any claim upon his own iniquity, or to acquire property by his own crime. These maxims are dictated by public policy, have their foundation in universal law administered in all civilized countries, and have nowhere been superseded by statutes.


On the 13th day of August 1880, Francis B. Palmer made his last will and testament, in which he gave small legacies to his two daughters, Mrs. Riggs and Mrs. Preston, the plaintiffs in this action, and the remainder of his estate to his grandson, defendant Elmer E. Palmer, subject to the support of Susan Palmer, his mother, with a gift over to the two daughters, subject to the support of Mrs. Palmer, in case Elmer should survive him and die under age, unmarried and without any issue. The testator at the date of his will owned a farm and considerable personal property. At the date of the will, and, subsequently, to the death of the testator, Elmer lived with him as a member of his family, and at his death was 16 years old. Elmer knew of the provisions made in his favor in the will, and, tin order to prevent his grandfather from revoking such provisions (which the testator had manifested some intention to do) and to obtain the speedy enjoyment and immediate possession of his property, Elmer willfully murdered testator by poisoning him. Defendant was now claiming the properties bequeathed to him by the virtue of the will. He argued that Palmer’s will was made in due form and has been admitted to probate, and that therefore, it must have effect according to the letter of the law.


Was Elmer E. Palmer, who murdered his grandfather by poison in order to obtain and enjoy the possession of property left to him bin his grandfather's will and testament, be allowed to obtain and possess the same?




The appellate court entered a decree enjoining Elmer E. Palmer from using any of the personalty or real estate left by his grandfather. According to the appellate court, by reason of the crime of murder committed upon the grandfather, Elmer was deprived of any interest left by the testator as he could not vest himself with title by crime.

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