A slayer, a person who without
legal excuse is responsible for the intentional killing of another, is denied
any right to benefit from that wrong under our laws. While this rule is statutorily
codified in many states, in New York it is a rule of common law rather than
statutory law. Riggs v. Palmer, 115 N.Y.
506, 22 N.E. 188 (1886) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers].
New York's slayer rule is founded on general equitable maxims of the common law
that "no one should be able to profit by his own fraud, take advantage of his
own wrong or found any claim upon his own iniquity, or acquire property by his
own crime." Riggs v. Palmer, 115 N.Y.
506, 511, 22 N.E. 188 (1886) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers]. It prohibits a slayer from receiving any benefit
from his victim's estate which would accrue under the law of wills, intestacy,
and other death benefits. The rationale for the slayer rule is the prevention
of unjust enrichment and the unwillingness of the Court to be party to such
unjust enrichment. (Restatement (Third) of the Law Property § 8.4).
with the Riggs doctrine, the slayer
rule has been applied to the slayer's estate as well as the slayer himself,
preventing the slayer from exercising ultimate control over the disposition of
the victim's property. Matter of Covert,
97 N.Y.2d 68, 735 N.Y.S.2d 879, 761 N.E.2d 571 (2001) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers];
Petrie v. Chase Manhattan Bank, 33 N.Y.2d
846, 352 N.Y.S.2d 194, 307 N.E.2d 253 (1973) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers];
Bierbrauer v. Moran, 244 A.D. 87, 279
N.Y.S. 176 (4th Dept 1935) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers].
a recent case before Surrogate John Czygier in Suffolk County New York, the
Court faced the issue of the extension of the Riggs v. Palmer slayer rule to benefits received by the slayer
indirectly from his victim's estate through another estate. Matter of Edwards, N.Y.L.J., April 13,
2012, at 35 (Sur. Ct. Suffolk County).
Diane Edwards was killed on December 17, 2008 by her son-in-law Brandon
Palladino, who was subsequently convicted upon his plea of guilty to a lesser
offense and incarcerated for (25) twenty five years. Deanna Palladino, the
slayer's wife, was the sole beneficiary under her mother Diane Edwards' will. The
sole asset of the estate was the decedent's home. Before Brandon plead guilty,
but after her mother's death, Deanna Palladino died intestate as a result of an
accidental drug overdose and Brandon was her sole distribute. Brandon
designated his mother to receive letters of administration in Deanna's
intestate estate. Diane Edwards' house was sold and her fiduciary sought a
determination of whom to pay the balance on hand, the estate of Deanna i.e.,
Brandon Palladino or to Diane Edwards' sister, her only sibling. Brandon's
mother argued, among other things, that the sister in seeking to disqualify
Brandon was urging a result beyond the tenets of the Riggs v. Palmer Slayer Rule which simply prevents a murderer from
inheriting from his victim. In this case she claims that the legacy of Diane
Edwards to her daughter Deanna vested upon Diane's death and Brandon's alleged
disqualification to inherit from his wife Deanna, must be determined in her
the case of Matter of Macaro, 182
Misc. 2d 625, 699 N.Y.S.2d 634 (Sur. Ct. Westchester County 1999) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers] to
these facts, the Surrogate held that by the wrongdoing of Brandon Palladino and
the decedent's death therefrom a causal link was created between the wrongdoing
and the benefits sought, even though the benefits may be obtained through an
intervening estate. In Macaro, the
Surrogate found that the convicted murderer of distributes in the estate of a
decedent who died intestate could not succeed to the distributees' interest and
disqualified the slayer as a distributee of the estate.
on out-of-state cases from Illinois and New Jersey, the Uniform Probate Code § 2-803(f)
and the Restatement (Third) of the Law Property § 8.4, Comments (c) and (m),
the Court found a common thread that an intervening estate should not expurgate
the wrong of the murderer and allow the slayer to profit by his wrong where the
benefit is directly traceable to the victim's estate. Matter of Vallerius, 259 Ill. App. 3d 350, 629 N.E.2d 1185 (Ill.
App. Ct. 5th Dist. 1994) [enhanced version available to lexis.com subscribers].
However, the Court recognized that a consistent application of this case could
be problematic because of a lack of temporal proximity between the wrongful act
and the wrongdoer's inheritance of the funds from the original heirs of the
victim. The Court also recognized the impossibility of tracing funds through an
intervening estate. Nevertheless, the Surrogate determined that such problems
should not prevent the application of the equitable maxims of the slayer rule
in this case, for to do otherwise would make the Court a facilitator of the
is also noteworthy that the Executive Committee of the New York State Bar
Association has proposed to the legislature a new EPTL 2-1.15 which would
codify the New York Slayer Rule. That proposed statute would not determine the Macaro - Edwards issues but leave them to the Courts to resolve. The
statute would emphasize however that "a wrongful acquisition of property or
interest not covered by this section must be treated in accordance with the
principle that a killer cannot profit from his or her own wrong."
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