Children kept from stepmom's inheritance as father caused her death

Courts do not like to allow someone who was culpably responsible for causing a death to profit from it. Courts in Pennsylvania and in many other states apply this principle. In one recent case, a court went out of its way to see that this did not happen, even if those who would receive an inheritance would not be the culpable ones themselves. A woman drowned in 199 while scuba-diving. Her husband was held civilly responsible for her death. He was not criminally prosecuted.

Because of his liability for her death, he was not allowed to serve as the executor of her estate and it was further ruled that he was to receive nothing from her estate. His children, however, went to court to claim that they should inherit something from their stepmother based on their own relationship, and not derivatively through their father.

A court has now rejected this claim. The parents of their stepmother are pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against their father seeking damages for their daughter's death. The stepchildren went so far as to acknowledge that if they obtained an inheritance from their mother, they would use the funds to assist him in fending off the claims in the lawsuit.

That, the court reasoned, would amount to him profiting off of the death of his wife, which he caused, which it would not allow. The stepmother's estate has diminished over the years and only $5,500 is left, but the court was determined to see to it that no part of the estate's money be used to benefit the man responsible for the wife's death.

The decedent in this case probably didn't expect that she would die in the scuba diving accident or that her husband would be connected to her death. In general, anyone can try to save time, money and stress among family by having some sort of estate plan in place in case an accident does happen.

Our law firm helps with a range of planning needs. Visit our Estates and Trusts page to learn more.

Source: WPRI, "Swain's children denied inheritance," Neil Remiesiewicz, Dec. 13, 2012


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