What is the Slayer Statute?

When people think about dramatic or exciting areas of law, their mind usually goes to dramatic criminal court room scenes. It is not often that their mind goes to estate planning or probate. Probate matters are no stranger to drama, however, and this is not always limited to the stereotypical family dispute over inheritance. In some unfortunate circumstances, a potential heir or beneficiary may decide to attempt to speed a natural process and kill the testator in order to receive inheritance sooner. In response to this sort of crime, the Minnesota legislature enacted Minnesota statute 542.2-803, which is commonly referred to as the “slayer statute.”

The slayer statute provides that a surviving spouse, heir, or devisee is not entitled to any portion of a decedent’s estate if that spouse, heir, or devisee intentionally kills the decedent. This applies not only to situations where the decedent died without a will, but also those where there was a will providing for specific grants to the killer. The property that otherwise would have passed to the killer will pass to other heirs just as if the killer had predeceased the victim.

The slayer statute also applies to other situations involving intentional killing and property interests. Subsection (b) provides that if a joint tenant intentionally and feloniously kills the other joint tenant, the victim’s interest in the property will not pass to the killer. Named beneficiaries of contractual agreements or bonds will also not benefit from killing the principal obligee under subsection (c).

Subsection (d) is devoted to discussing life insurance. As with the other subsections, if the beneficiary of the policy feloniously and intentionally kills the policy holder, the beneficiary will not receive the insurance proceeds. The law also allows the insurance company to withhold the proceeds of the policy upon receiving notice that the provision may apply. In other words, the life insurance company can withhold the payment even without a final conviction.

The statute goes on to provide that if there is a conviction for intentional and felonious killing, that conviction is conclusive for purposes of preventing the killer from benefiting from the crime. However, even in the absence of the conviction, a court may make a determination based on the preponderance of the evidence that the killing was intentional and still withhold any benefit the killer would have received.

We have extensive experience helping our clients all types of probate and estate planning issues. Call us today at (651) 371-9117 for an appointment to discuss your case.