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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Can a murderer inherit under the Will of his victim?

This isn't something I see much of (fortunately!!) but from time to time the question comes up.

Here's an example of the situation. Joe makes a Will naming Sammy and Lisa as his equal beneficiaries. Sammy murders Joe. Now that Joe is deceased, his estate has to be distributed so his Will is read. Does Sammy still get his inheritance under Joe's Will?

No, he doesn't. That's probably a good policy when you think about it, otherwise we might run the risk of people getting impatient for their inheritances and taking steps to get it earlier. That isn't the guiding principle of why Sammy's inheritance is blocked by the courts though; the reason is that people who commit murder are not allowed to profit financially from the crime.

Joe's Will will be carried out as if Sammy had died before Joe.


  1. Can Trustees play the stock(buy/sell/trade) market with the estate investment portfolio? Or does this have to be explicitly stated so in the will. If they do play the market, are they obligated to provide a spreadsheet of how they fared and/in comparison with the original Date of Death holdings? Thanks in advance!

    1. Trustees are expected to maximize the estate. This means that when money is held in trust, it is supposed to be invested. This does not have to be specified in a will.

      In most parts of Canada, the trustee is held to a standard called the "prudent investor" rule. This means the trustee can do anything with the trust funds that any reasonably prudent person would do. It is generally considered to mean that a diversified portfolio tailored to the needs of the trust (for example, the length of time it is to be held, the need for income, etc) is required. It also means that any reasonable form of investment, including stocks, bonds, shares, etc are allowed.

      Every province has an a law called the Trustee Act which talks about how a Trustee may invest. It might be a good idea for you to check the one for your province to ensure that it is subject to the prudent investor rule.

      No, they are not specifically required to provide a spreadsheet. Having said that, an executor is always required to account for estate assets, especially if there is a loss, so a spreadsheet might be a good way of doing that.


    2. Okay, thank you Lynne for your timely response. I did read over the act and the grey areas are mostly within the interpretation of 'prudent'. I also notice that the act permits prudent investment but no mention of liquidating and then re-investing, repeat, which is what has happened in our case. Accordingly, our interpretation of 'prudent' does not include playing the market in volatile times and then putting beneficiaries on hold while markets & portfolio slowly climbs back to ground zero. It may well all be legal and according to how one interprets the wording of the act, though. Again, very grey but time is money. Also, the hidden fees/costs in selling, buying, reselling are not apparent and although it appears, in this case, that they may have eventually made money - it's by far a slam dunk in that department and most likely leaving the portfolio as is, would have generated as much or more interest in the several years it has taken to play out. Thus the request for a detailed spreadsheet - Denied(no big surprise!) (note: you are welcomed to start a new thread with this topic as I have posted in the wrong topic area)


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