The Michigan Slayer Statute and Probate

Michigan slayer statute applies to voluntary manslaughter too. Interesting how this issue will appear from time to time! A few years local dentist going through a divorce was shot in the back of the head in a rough part of town – wife was person of interest but never charged and she received life insurance benefits because husband never changed beneficiary despite pending divorce.

The Estates and Protected Individuals Code (EPIC), MCL 700.1101 et seq. , provides that a devisee who “feloniously and intentionally” kills a decedent forfeits all benefits from the decedent's estate. MCL 700.2803 states, in pertinent part:

(1) An individual who feloniously and intentionally kills the decedent forfeits all benefits under this article with respect to the decedent's estate, including an intestate share, an elective share, an omitted spouse's or child's share, a homestead allowance, a family allowance, and exempt property. If the decedent died intestate, the decedent's intestate estate passes as if the killer disclaimed his or her intestate share.

(2) The felonious and intentional killing of the decedent does all of the following:

(a) Revokes all of the following that are revocable:

( i ) Disposition or appointment of property made by the decedent to the killer in a governing instrument.

( ii ) Provision in a governing instrument conferring a general or nongeneral power of appointment on the killer.

( iii ) Nomination of the killer in a governing instrument, nominating or appointing**910 the killer to serve in a fiduciary or representative capacity, including a personal representative, executor, trustee, or agent.

(b) Severs the interests of the decedent and killer in property held by them at the time of the killing as joint tenants with the right of survivorship, transforming the interests of the decedent and killer into tenancies in common.

This provision, sometimes referred to as a “slayer rule,” is derived from the common-law rules that one who commits a murder cannot benefit by his or her criminal act and that no devisee can take under the will of a testator whose death has been caused by the criminal act of the devisee. Garwols v. Bankers Trust Co., 251 Mich. 420, 428, 232 N.W. 239 (1930).

Respondent was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. She argues that manslaughter does not involve an “intentional killing,” and notes that she was specifically acquitted of murdering her husband. Thus, respondent asserts that MCL 700.2803 does not prevent her from receiving benefits from the estate of her late husband. The issue in this case rests, therefore, on the meaning of the term “intentionally” as used by the Legislature in MCL 700.2803 when describing the killing of a decedent.

Because voluntary manslaughter has been defined by Michigan courts as an intentional killing, and because the common law “slayer rule” has never been limited to the crime of murder, it follows logically that MCL 700.2803 operates to prevent one convicted of voluntary manslaughter from benefiting from the estate of the decedent. Because respondent was convicted of voluntary manslaughter, she is subject to the forfeiture rule of MCL 700.2803.

Categories: Estate Planning