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Idaho Estate Planning who Gets the Estate When the Decedent was Murdered

By Lane V. Erickson, Idaho Estate Planning Attorney

As an estate planning attorney, when I am assisting my clients in creating their estate plan, one of the first discussions I have with them is how money affects people. In other words, I talk with my clients about the fact that while they are creating their estate plan they have the ability to help their family stay close to each other and maintain their relationships. We have often found that a poorly drafted estate plan, or when a client has no estate plan at all, the assets, money and property in an estate will either bring out the best or the worst in their family.

A recent news story highlights the effect that money can have on an individual. On June 28th, 2019, Thomas Gilbert Jr., the adult son of a successful hedge fund manager was found guilty by a jury of the murder of his father in 2015. According to the story, Mr. Gilbert murdered his father after his father cut the weekly “allowance” he gave to his son. The trial having to do with this murder, was delayed for several years, because of claims by the son that he was mentally unstable, and did not know what he was doing. However, after he was determined to be sane, the trial commenced earlier this year and lasted 5 weeks before a guilty verdict was handed down.

Apparently, Mr. Gilbert wasn't satisfied with the fact that his parents had paid for Prep School, his college years at Princeton, or the fact that he could spend his time unemployed because his parents also paid his rent, his car payment, his insurance, and even paid his parking tickets, on top of giving him a $1,000 a week allowance. The evidence presented at the trial showed that when his father began to cut his weekly allowance in an effort to help his son find a job so he could become independent financially, Mr. Gilbert began searching online for a hitman. Apparently, the last straw occurred when the father cut his allowance down to $300 a week. Hours after this happened, Mr. Gilbert murdered his father.

Unfortunately, this type of story is not unique. In fact, there are a number of stories that a person can find online that have to do with individuals who wanted to be the heirs of the estate of the person they murdered. Because of Mr. Gilbert story I've had a number of people ask me what the circumstances would be in Idaho if a person committed murder and was also listed as an heir of the estate. The purpose of this article is to discuss applicable Idaho law about who gets the estate of a deceased person when a murder occurs.

Estate Distribution is Controlled by the Written Estate Planning Documents

The first place we start when it comes to a person’s death and the distribution of a person's estate, or the inheritance of the estate by living individuals, has to do with whether or not there is a written estate planning document such as a last will and testament or a trust that would control the distribution of the estate. The reason we start here is because it is presumed that a written estate planning document controls the distribution of the money, property, and assets owned by the individual who died. The most common type of estate planning document that controls the distribution of these items is a last will and testament. However, a trust could own these types of assets, and control their distribution upon the death of the decedent.

The reason these documents control is because every individual is given the opportunity to make decisions about the distribution of their own money and property. It is the duty of the law to carry out the intents and wishes of the individual who created the estate plan.

However, the Murderer Cannot Receive a Distribution from the Estate

The duty of the law changes, however, when a murder occurs, especially if the murderer is listed as an heir of the estate. In this instance, Idaho’s “slayer statute” would control the distribution of the estate, even if the intentions of the decedent are not carried out.

The Idaho Slayer Statute is found at Idaho Code § 15-2-803. This code section is fairly lengthy and provides a number of definitions and other specific directions whenever a murder occurs and the murderer is an individual set to inherit all or part of the estate. In this instance, it's sufficient to summarize that statute when it says the following:

  1. No slayer shall in any way acquire any property or receive any benefit as a result of the death of the decedent, but such property shall pass as provided in the sections following.
  2. The slayer shall be deemed to have predeceased the decedent as to property which would have passed from the decedent or his estate to the slayer under the statutes of descent and distribution or have been acquired by statutory right as surviving spouse or under any agreement made with the decedent.
  3. Property which would have passed to or for the benefit of the slayer by devise or legacy from the decedent shall be distributed as if he had predeceased the decedent.

The statute makes it clear that it really makes no difference whether there is a written will or not. If a person who is set to receive an inheritance, is in fact the murderer, they will be treated as if they predeceased the decedent and as a result will receive no inheritance due to the death they themselves intentionally caused.

Contingent Beneficiaries or if There are None, Then Intestate Heirs

If there is a murder, and if the murderer was a person who was listed in a written will or in an intestate statute to receive a portion of the decedent's estate, that portion will then simply go to other heirs. If there is a written will, usually there is a contingent beneficiary listed. Sometimes this will be the children or grandchildren of the murderer. Sometimes it will be other individuals such as a charity. Alternatively, it could also be that the term heirs-at-law is utilized. Regardless of what is written, that is what will actually be carried out.

In the instance where there is no written last will and testament, then the laws of intestacy will determine who will receive the estate rather than the murderer. Because of this, there will always be an individual or a group who will be the contingent beneficiary of the decedent's estate.

Enlist an Idaho Estate Planning Attorney to Help You

Our team of Idaho lawyers can help you with any of your estate planning or probate needs. Whether you are seeking to create or review an estate plan for yourself or would like to help a loved one, we are available to discuss your options and answer your questions at an initial free 30-minute consultation. Call us toll free at 877-232-6101 or 208-232-6101 for a free consultation. You can also email us directly at lane@racineolson.com or stop by our office at 201 East Center Street, Pocatello, Idaho 83201. We will answer your questions and help you solve your Idaho Estate Planning problems.

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