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The Black Widow: Killing for Inheritance

New York estate planning lawyers likely know about New York's slayer rule.

But for the uninitiated, here's a little story to ponder.

A woman in Oregon allegedly killed her husband. The woman, Liysa Northon, was accused of shooting her husband, Christopher James Northon, in the head while the couple was on a camping trip.

She pleaded guilty and is now in jail.

Now, that's a criminal issue, you say. Why would a New York estate planner be interested in this issue? That's one for the New York Criminal Law Blog!

Or is it?

Liysa Northon's husband, Christopher James Northon, had a nice 401(k) plan. And Liysa was the designated beneficiary on that plan.

Christopher Northon worked for Hawaiian Airlines Inc at one point. As a result, he had a great 401(k) plan.

Now, while it's unclear to me whether that was the motive behind the killing, it still brings forth the question about inheritance rights of the murderer.

Let's presume that Liysa Northon did kill in order to reap the benefits of the 401(k) plan, or to reap the benefits of any other potential inheritance.

Would it be fair to give her the rights to the inheritance, if she presumably killed her spouse just to get it?

That's a question that many New York probate lawyers and New York estate planning lawyers don't ask very much, largely because New York precedent does not reward the killer in reaping the rewards of their crime.

And that's what the slayer rule is all about.

While it may often relate to the bigger picture, it's possible that the rule could be used to make the argument that someone like Liysa Northon should be disinherited, or that she should lose her beneficiary status.

If you'd like to discuss these issues in greater detail, contact a New York estate planning lawyer. They would be happy to discuss the implications of inheritance planning with you.

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