One of the most bone-chilling and eerie probate laws in Florida is the “Slayer Statute”. Essentially, slayer statutes prevent murderers from inheriting from their victims. The majority of the states in the U.S. have enacted statutes preventing someone from inheriting from an individual whose death they have caused, but specific rules and provisions vary from state to state on how the Slayer statute is applied.
For example, some states vary on whether an insanity defense is taken into account on the topic of inheritance and probate. Other distinctions include whether the “slayer” committed an intentional homicide and not a manslaughter, whether a criminal conviction is required for the Slayer statute to be applied in the probate context, and whether the heirs of the “Slayer” are also disinherited.
In Florida, the Slayer statute states that anyone who unlawfully and intentionally kills someone or participates in procuring that person’s death, that individual cannot inherit from the deceased person. For the Slayer statute to apply, this needs to be shown by a preponderance of the evidence. In comparison, when evaluating a homicide in the criminal sense, the state has to show that the individual is guilty of the crime beyond a reasonable doubt. In other words, the threshold of evidence required to determine that the Slayer statute applies for inheritance purposes is a lot lower than the threshold required to find that person guilty in the criminal context. An individual does not have to be convicted of the crime – just that it is more likely than not that they are guilty.
Unlike other states, Florida does not disinherit the heirs of the “Slayer” from inheriting from the decedent, so while the killer does not profit from the estate of the person they have killed, the killer’s children are not barred.
The Slayer rule was recently featured in the mystery film, Knives Out. In the film, the patriarch of a wealthy family is found dead in an apparent suicide, but during the investigation, it turns out the decedent had changed his estate plan just prior to his death, and now all of his relatives are potential murder suspects. In the film, the greedy family members are desperate to know who the murderer is so they can cut him or her out of the patriarch’s estate and increase their own shares. An epic whodunnit ensues, with plenty of plot twists to keep you guessing.