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Forfeiting Inheritance by Criminal Conduct

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Posted by Anna Sutcliffe on 15 February 2016

Anna Sutcliffe Senior Associate

It is well established that it is contrary to public policy to allow a criminal to reap any benefit from his/her crime. This also applies to a criminal benefiting from gifts by a Will (or upon intestacy) and to property passing automatically by survivorship. 

The forfeiture rule applies to murder and manslaughter. However, in relation to manslaughter the Court has a discretion to modify the impact of the rule. 

Henderson v Wilcox [2015] EWHC 3469(Ch)

The son of the Deceased (Ian) (who suffered from mental illness) attacked and killed his mother. He was found guilty of manslaughter, on the basis that he had not intended to kill her. 

Under his mother’s Will Ian was due to receive an inheritance in the region of £150,000 and he sought relief from forfeiture to allow the inheritance to take effect. 

Section 2(2) of the Forfeiture Act 1982 allows the Court to modify the forfeiture rule if it is satisfied that: taking account of the conduct of the offender (and of the Deceased) and all other material circumstances the justice of the case requires modification of the rule. 

In Henderson it was found that although Ian would benefit from additional money and his mother would have wanted to help him, these factors carried little weight. The offence was of a particularly serious and unpleasant nature. Ian had assaulted his elderly and frail mother leaving her with severe bruising, fractured ribs and internal bleeding, which ultimately led to her death. Even though Ian had a low IQ and had struggled with the frustration of caring for his mother (when he was not equipped to do so) there was no evidence that he suffered from a recognised mental disorder. Taking everything in to account his culpability was high. Additionally Ian benefited from two family trusts (see below) and the Court concluded that justice did not require a departure from the forfeiture rule. This meant that he did not receive the inheritance under his mother’s will. 

The Family Trusts

There was a property in which the Deceased and Ian had lived. The property had been owned jointly by them, but in 2011 they each transferred their interest into two “family protection trusts”. This meant that the property passed outside of the Deceased’s Estate. 

Each of the trusts was discretionary, with the beneficiaries being the Deceased, Ian and the Deceased’s sister’s son. 

It was found that the trusts were not subject to the forfeiture rule. Previous cases indicated that forfeiture applies, when the offender’s entitlement comes into existence as a direct consequence of the death or the criminal act connected with the death. For example an interest under a Will kicks in upon the death of the testator. Also when property passes by survivorship that occurs upon the death of a joint owner. Any pre-existing interest that the criminal has in the property is unaffected. 

The interests that Ian had (or may become entitled to) under the family protection trusts were pre-existing and did not result from (and were not extended by) the death of his mother. If the trustees exercised their discretion in his favour, any payment he received would be by virtue of their decision and not coincident with the death. In the case of the trust relating to his share of the property, he had an interest in the property before the death and the forfeiture rule did not extend to remove it from him. 

Ultimately it was found that the forfeiture rule did not apply to the trusts. 

If you have any enquiry in relation to a disputed estate, please do not hesitate to contact our Anna Sutcliffe for a no obligation free chat concerning your matter.  

About the author

Anna Sutcliffe

Senior Associate

Anna specialises in inheritance disputes including claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, disputes between executors and claims in respect of the validity of wills.

Anna Sutcliffe

Anna specialises in inheritance disputes including claims under the Inheritance (Provision for Family and Dependants) Act 1975, disputes between executors and claims in respect of the validity of wills.

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