Obituaries attempt to summarize a life in a few short paragraphs in print or online. They may describe a person’s occupation and place of residence, list the person’s family and close friends, and set out the funeral or memorial arrangements that have been made. They might also set out the cause of death.
Stephen Merrill, a Florida resident, died at the young age of 31. His obituary states that he passed away on February 12, 2015 “due to an uppercut from Batman”.
The story behind this unusual obituary appears to be that the newspaper in which the obituary was to be published indicated that their policies required a cause of death to be listed. The family and friends did not know the cause of death at the time that the obituary was to be arranged.
While a well-written obituary, like Stephen Merrill’s, can bring some comfort to a person’s loved ones, obituaries can sometimes play a role in estate disputes. Disagreements about the wording of an obituary may be among the first arguments that occur about the administration of the estate of a recently deceased person. Omitting or misdescribing someone can lead to resentment and hurt feelings.
Sometimes, obituaries play a role in estate litigation. Where there is a dispute as to whether or not someone was living in a spousal relationship with the deceased, the obituary may serve as evidence. Here’s one recent example from the Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench where an obituary was used as evidence in support of a finding that someone was an adult interdependent partner of the deceased under the relevant Alberta legislation.
Of course, an uppercut from Batman could not have been the late Stephen Merrill’s real cause of death. Batman doesn’t kill.
Over the weekend, I was reading some international publications, when I came across a rather interesting article in The New York Times about Ben Novack Jr., and his Batman collection. Novack is said to have the second largest, Batman themed collection, in the country. To give you an idea of how big this collection is, Novack is said to have a full-size replica of the Batmobile!
About one year ago, Novack was found murdered at a hotel in New York, where he was staying with his wife. The hotel records showed that no one had entered the hotel room with a key before the killing of Novack. Novack’s wife reported to the police that "she went down to breakfast about 7 a.m., leaving him asleep. When she returned 40 minutes later, she said, she found him bound and bloody on the floor." Given the hotel records, and other circumstantial evidence, the police did not believe Novack’s wife.
It is reported that her goal was to seize control of Novack’s fortune. How much was his estate worth? $5-6 million dollars!
Earlier this year in February, a Florida judge named Ms. Novack as the personal representative of Novack’s estate before reversing the decision three days later. He ordered her to post a high bond before becoming personal representative, but Novack’s wife never posted the bond.
The article does not mention whether Ms. Novack was convicted with the murder of her husband, however, in Ontario the Forfeiture Rule is well founded law for beneficiaries who perpetrate a criminal act against the testator. The Forfeiture Rule was quoted in Re Benson Estate, "A sane person who commits murder is debarred by public policy from taking any benefit under the Will or intestacy of his victim."
Thank you for reading,
Rick Bickhram – Click here for more information on Rick Bickhram.