Michigan's Slayer Statute prohibits someone from benefiting from a person's estate if he or she feloniously or intentionally caused that person's death. Other states have similar laws, and a recent case in New York touched on this issue.
The case involved a mentally-ill woman who had allegedly drowned her three children in 2008 because she thought she was preventing them from being harmed by the effects of voodoo. The court found the 33-year-old mother not guilty due to mental disease and sent her to a psychiatric hospital. However, the children had an estate of $350,000 because of a separate lawsuit that had been lodged against Nassau County because social workers allegedly failed to monitor the woman and her children. Workers had visited the home two days previously, but they did not make a follow-up visit after no one answered the door. The county subsequently settled the wrongful death cases.
The state has a statute that prohibits criminals from profiting from their crimes. The Nassau County Court found that this law did not specifically apply to the case, but it ruled that the woman should not receive any money from her children's estate anyway. The judge said that the fact that the state could not criminally punish an insane defendant was not relevant in determining whether a killer should be able to inherit from the victim.
Although the children died without wills and thus their estates did not go through probate, the administration of estates involving state intestacy laws can often be complicated. An attorney with experience in estate planning may be able to advise family members of a decedent who died without a will in the event of a conflict.
Source: ABC News, "Judge: No Estate Rights for NY Mom Who Killed Kids", Frank Eltman, November 06, 2013