What is the Slayer Statute in California?

California estate planning lawyers are often asked by clients whether they should tell their adult children or other loved ones what they will inherit under their will. In the vast majority of cases, that disclosure will evoke feelings of gratitude on behalf of the intended beneficiaries. Sadly, there are cases when this isn’t the case.

In California and most other states, the Slayer Statute is a law that prevents someone from inheriting property from someone they intentionally and “feloniously” killed. The public policy reason behind the law is obvious – – to provide a deterrent that discourages unscrupulous, morally bankrupt, or evil people from murdering spouses and family members from whom they expect to inherit. A civil society frowns upon knocking off people for any reason, including financial gain. The rule, however, would not disqualify those who are found to have killed in self-defense, or unintentionally.

Unfortunately, murderers are often ignorant of the law and learn only after the fact that they can’t benefit from the felonious killing. The law treats such killers as having died before their victims so they do not receive any financial benefit from their crime.

Recently, a San Jose man and his roommate were reportedly held on suspicion of the “murder and attempted murder” of the man’s parents who police say they plotted to murder “in order to collect and split his inheritance”. Reportedly, the couple who had each been shot twice was found in their mobile home, with the father dead and the mother critically injured.

But what if the victim doesn’t have an estate plan?

Regardless of whether someone dies of natural or other causes, they are considered to have died “intestate” if they die without a will. In such cases, each state’s intestacy laws clearly define which parties will inherit the person’s estate based on their legally-recognized blood or marital relationship to the decedent—regardless of the status of their personal relationship, if any.

In California, some of the more common intestacy situations are as follows:

  • if you die with children but no spouse, your children will inherit your entire estate
  • if you die with a spouse but no children, parents or siblings, your spouse inherits everything
  • if you die with a spouse and children, your separate property is divided between your spouse and children in accordance with statutory percentages.

The intestacy statute also governs increasingly more remote relationships to the decedent in cases where there is no surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, grandparents, etc.

Many people fail to have a comprehensive estate plan drafted– wrongly assuming that their property will end up in the right hands, but that isn’t necessarily the case. Having a will drafted is a simple way to ensure your loved ones are protected and/or your probate assets are transferred in accordance with your wishes. By not having a will, all or part of your estate could conceivably be given to a relative you do not like—or one you may not even know.

If you need assistance with an initial estate plan or would like to modify an existing one, the estate planning experts at Biddle Law can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in San Mateo and Belmont, California, we represent clients throughout San Mateo County including San Carlos, Burlingame, and Foster City in all estate planning matters.