Can Murderers Inherit?

Jeff: Recently there was a story about an adopted son who inherited his parents' estate of a $500,000. There is nothing unusual about that except this son according to court records apparently tried to poison his parents when that didn't work he tried to shoot them. What rights do children have to their parents' estate?

Jeff: Does a child have a right to inherit his parents' estate even if he has tried to kill his parents?

Mike: Jeff the law does prohibit someone from inheriting assets as the result of murder. But nothing else in the law stops a child from inheriting his parents' estate no matter how rotten a child he is. In this case the parents' wills did not address who inherited the money if there was no surviving spouse. If that happens then Ohio law provides that the next beneficiary is the child. And the law doesn't care how good of a child you have been.

The important thing to learn from this is everyone needs a will and you need to make sure that your will says who inherits your estate and have back up beneficiaries of your estate. For example if you give money to your son and he dies before you do, you need to say what happens. Does it go to grandchildren, brothers, sisters?

Jeff: So if you have a will and it says who inherits your estate can anyone else challenge the will?

Mike: There are only four ways to challenge a will:

  1. Duress- An example of this means is if someone puts so much pressure on you to put them in your will that you feel that you have no choice. For example lets say a mother lives with her son and then the son pressures the mother to write all of his brothers and sisters out of the will or he will kick the mother out. That's duress!
  2. Incompetence- The parent has become incompetent, maybe for example in the late stages of Alzheimer's. They cannot sign a valid will.
  3. Fraud- The parent does not even realize he was signing a will or for example he was told the will meant everything was going to all of his children when it was really going to one. There was a case several years ago where there was an accusation that the person had signed a blank sheet of paper and then the will was drafted around it.
  4. Written wills. The will formalities are not followed. Generally the will must be signed at the end of the will and witnessed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries of the will. In certain limited situations an oral will can be valid if made on your death bed. But obviously that sort of bequest is asking for litigation.

Jeff: What if you make your will and then change your mind on what you want to do ?

Mike: Many times a client will come to me right before they go on vacation and say they want to change their will and they tell me the changes they want. They even tell their children what they want to do and send them a letter describing the changes. It doesn't work. You need to have your will changed in writing and have all of the formalities followed including two disinterested witnesses. You have built up your assets over a lifetime , you should sit down with a lawyer and carefully plan what happens to your assets when you pass away.

Jeff: thank you.