The Slayer Rule and Estates Law
A rare but important rule of the common law which sometimes arises in the context of estate litigation is the so-called “slayer rule,” on which we have previously written.
The slayer rule follows from the principle of ex turpi causa – that one cannot profit from their own crime – in that a beneficiary who is found guilty to have murdered the giftor/testator of their particular benefit consequently loses their benefit.
For example, if a daughter was found to have murdered her mother, rather than accelerating her inheritance, she would lose whatever benefit she was entitled to receive under her mother’s will.
The most recent appearance of the slayer rule in Ontario estates law occurred in a March 2021 decision, The Bank of Nova Scotia Trust Company v Rogers, in which a son was convicted of murdering his parents and was subsequently sentenced to two life sentences without the possibility of parole for 20 years.
The parents had mirror wills providing first for each other, and then for their son, as an alternative beneficiary. If their son were to predecease them (or otherwise lose his entitlement – as was the case), then the next alternative beneficiary was to be the son’s “issue then living in equal shares per stirpes.”
As the son did not yet have any issue, the judge’s dilemma was whether to wait for further distribution until he died, or to skip forward to the next named beneficiaries in the will. For a multitude of reasons, including public policy and the implied intention of the testators, the judge decided upon the latter option, which would result in an equal division of the residue of the estate among the deceased mother’s three brothers.
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