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April 4, 2012
Estate Litigation Update

Washington state law has long prohibited a “slayer” from inheriting from his or her victim.  The rule was first applied in a case called In re Tyler’s Estate, where a man who had murdered his spouse was deemed ineligible to receive a portion of his wife’s estate.  This ruling was subsequently codified by the Legislature in 1927 and is commonly known among practitioner’s as the “slayer’s statute.”  Essentially, the law was that a “slayer” would be treated as predeceasing his or her victim and therefore ineligible to receive any portion of the victim’s estate.  A “slayer” is one who participates, either as a principal or an accessory before the fact in the willful and unlawful killing of another person.  Over the years, there has been a great deal of litigation of the fact-specific circumstances regarding whether a person meets the statutory definition of the term “slayer.”

Recently, though, Washington’s Legislature made a sweeping amendment to the slayer’s statute to treat a person who financially exploits a vulnerable adult the same a slayer – by cutting off the inheritance rights of the abuser.  An abuser is someone who participates, either as a principal or an accessory before the fact, in the willful and unlawful financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.  To apply the slayer’s statute to an abuser, a court must find that the decedent was a vulnerable adult (which is also statutorily defined by a myriad of possibilities) and that the conduct consisting of the financial exploitation was willful action or inaction causing injury to the property (real, personal or assets) of the vulnerable adult. 

The genesis of this change to the slayer’s statute was a determination by the Legislature that there has be an increase by people taking financial advantage of our State’s seniors, particularly when such persons become infirm and incapable of managing their own affairs. 

This change in the statute, however, has caused a great deal of additional litigation in Trust and Estate disputes and has empowered corporate and individual trustees and personal representatives to pursue family members who have taken advantage of a client or a loved-one.  One potential consequence of the statutes amended we anticipate may occur is that corporate trustees of living trusts may find themselves defending claims they are accessories before the fact if they have not kept a watchful eye over a client’s financial assets while the corporate client is a vulnerable adult. 

We continue to keep our own watchful eye on the evolution of this statute and are committed to assisting our own clients with this issue and others like it.

Disclaimer

This advisory is a publication of Eisenhower Carlson PLLC. Our purpose in publishing this advisory is to inform our clients and friends of recent legal developments. It is not intended, nor should it be used, as a substitute for specific legal advice as legal counsel may only be given in response to inquiries regarding particular situations.

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