How Florida Recently Expanded Its “Slayer Statute”
A common trope of crime fiction is the person who kills their spouse to collect the life insurance money. In reality, such schemes are doomed to fail because of what is known as the “Slayer Statute.” This is a longstanding common-law rule that was codified in the Florida Statutes back in the 1970s. Basically, a person cannot legally inherit from someone they “unlawfully and intentionally” killed.
So let’s say a person does murder their spouse. In that situation, the Slayer Statute instructs the probate court to act as if the killer predeceased the victim. Any property left to the spouse under a will or Florida’s intestacy statute will simply pass to the next-of-kin.
One thing to note: A murder conviction is not necessary to invoke the Slayer Statute. While a criminal conviction does automatically trigger disinheritance, a civil court may also find by “the greater weight of the evidence” whether there was an unlawful and intentional killing.
Abuse, Neglect, Exploitation, and Aggravated Manslaughter Can Lead to Disinheritance
Earlier this year, the Florida legislature extended the principles of the Slayer Statute to disinherit those persons who “abuse, neglect, exploit, or commit aggravated manslaughter” against an elderly or disabled person. The new law, which took effect on July 1, establishes two methods for disinheritance:
- If the person in question has previously been convicted by a court of committing abuse, neglect, exploitation, or aggravated manslaughter against the deceased (or other person), that creates a “rebuttable presumption” in favor of their disinheritance.
- Absent such a conviction, the trial court must find “by the greater weight of the evidence” that the person in question engaged in conduct that caused or contributed to the deceased individual’s abuse, neglect, exploitation, or death.
The legislature made several related amendments, including:
- Severing any joint tenancy where one joint tenant commits abuse, neglect, exploitation, or aggravated manslaughter; in that scenario the interest of the deceased joint tenant will pass as their sole property and not to the offending joint tenant.
- The Florida Trust Code now similarly disinherits any person found to commit abuse, neglect, exploitation, or aggravated manslaughter against the trust’s settlor or “another person on whose death such beneficiary’s interest depends.”
- A person convicted of abuse, neglect, exploitation, or aggravated abuse against an elderly or disabled person in any state is now barred from serving as personal representative of a Florida estate.
For clarification, Florida defines an “elderly person” as someone who is at least 60 years of age and who suffers from “the infirmities of aging.” A disabled adult refers to anyone who is at least 18 years old and “suffers from a condition of physical or mental incapacitation” that restricts their “ability to perform the normal activities of daily living.”
Speak with a Florida Probate Lawyer Today
These recent changes to the law are designed to protect vulnerable people during their last days. The law will also likely spark a number of claims of abuse and neglect in connection with probate and trust matters. If you are involved in such a dispute and need advice from an experienced Pompano Beach trust and estate litigation attorney, contact Mark R. Manceri, P.A., today to schedule a consultation.