by C. Jean Stewart
Last month Maryland’s highest appellate court released a narrowly-divided (4-to-3) opinion in a tax apportionment case involving the estate of celebrity novelist Tom Clancy (The Hunt For Red October, Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, and other popular espionage novels), who died on October 1, 2013. This case once again confirms that (1) blended families, combined with (2) tax apportionment disputes and (3) ambiguity and inconsistency in estate planning documents, inevitably fuel expensive and protracted probate litigation.
In his will, Clancy gave his tangible personal property and two of his residences outright to his second wife, who survived him, and directed his Personal Representative to divide his residuary estate into three equal parts. One part, designated as the “Marital Share,” was to be (a) comprised entirely of assets qualifying for the federal estate tax marital deduction, (b) held solely for the benefit of his widow, and (c) exonerated from all tax liabilities to qualify entirely for the marital deduction. Read more
by Matthew Skotak and Rebecca Klock Schroer
Common law provides that a killer cannot profit from his or her own wrong. This policy underlies what is known as the “Slayer Statute.” The Colorado Probate Code includes Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-803 to address the scenario where a person kills another and stands to inherit the victim’s assets.
Under the Slayer Statute, there are two ways to show that a person cannot inherit. First, if the person is convicted of a felonious killing in a criminal proceeding, after all right to appeal has been exhausted, such conviction is conclusive under the Slayer Statute. Accordingly, the killer’s right to inherit from the victim is extinguished and the killer is generally treated as though he or she predeceased the victim.
Second, a civil action may be commenced under which the accusing party may try to prove, by the preponderance of the evidence, the elements of a felonious killing. If the elements are proven, the killer’s right to inherit from the victim is extinguished. The ability to move forward with a civil action may be particularly useful if the criminal proceeding is subject to multiple appeals and is pending for a number of years.
The Slayer Statute generally addresses the killer’s right to inherit under revocable instruments, nonprobate assets, e.g., life insurance, and statutory rights. It does not address every possible scenario and therefore, has a “catch-all” provision. This provision provides that “A wrongful acquisition of property or interest by a killer not covered by this section shall be treated in accordance with the principle that a killer cannot profit from his or her wrong.” Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-803(6). Read more