The general rule in England and Wales is that upon the death of your husband or wife (if they pre-decease you) their estate will pass in accordance with their Will, or if they do not hold a Will the estate will pass in accordance with the Intestacy Rules. However, under the Forfeiture Act 1982 you are unable to inherit from the Deceased’s estate, if you have killed them.
It is rare that this type of case hits the news however in September 2021, Leslie Winnister (a 70 year-old BT Executive) bludgeoned his wife of 40 years to death. The Court heard that at the time of the killing, Leslie was suffering with delusional thoughts and he believed his wife had been having an affair with a handyman. Furthermore, Leslie believed they were trying to poison him.
Leslie was sentenced in June 2021 to an indefinite hospital order after admitting manslaughter by reason of diminished responsibility.
Leslie’s wife had left her entire estate to him under the terms of her Will which was estimated to be valued at £2.5 Million. However, as explained above, he was unable to inherit due to his crime. As a result of this, the estate was to be divided between her remaining heirs.
Leslie obtained legal representation and issued a claim in the High Court requesting that he be provided with a share of his wife’s estate. The Court considered his application and agreed that he should receive 17.5% from all but two of the heirs (said to be approximately £200,000) with the remainder to be distributed to her seven heirs.
The law surrounding these types of cases are explained within the forfeiture rule, in which public policy allows a person who has ‘unlawfully killed’ another, to potentially financially benefit in consequence of the killing they have committed.
The definition of ‘unlawful killing’ can also include where an individual has aided and abetted, counselled and procured the death of another. This includes survivors to suicide pacts.
It is important to note that there is however limitations to the rule. If an individual is convicted of murder, the Court cannot allow the individual to financially benefit from the Deceased. Therefore, as Leslie had not been convicted of murder; he was able to satisfy the rule and inherit a portion of his wife’s estate.
In addition, if an individual wishes to bring a claim, they must do so within a period of 3 months beginning with their conviction date. This limitation date is strict, and there is no scope to seek an extension to it.
As noted above, these cases can be quite rare in their nature; however our team would be more than happy to assist in providing advice.