What is the “Slayer Rule”?
In simple terms, the “Slayer Rule” prevents somebody who has intentionally caused another’s death from taking a share of a deceased’s estate, whether under the deceased’s Will or under intestate. The case which is commonly cited for this type of situation is the old case of Lundy v Lundy (1895) 24 SCR 650. While this case sets out the basic foundations associated with the slayer rule, more recent case law has narrowed in on when and how the rule should (and should not) apply and has more accurately articulated the scope for the rule.
Criminal Charges and the Slayer Rule
The case of RE Charlton, 1968 2 O.R. 96-102 established that in addition to murder, manslaughter also falls under the scope of “intentionally causing death”. This was a major advancement for the rule as it widened the once narrow scope, ultimately determining that murder is not the only way for one to be barred from an interest in a deceased’s estate. In the case of Demeter v Dominion Life Assurance Co. (1982), 35 O.R. (2d) 560 (C.A.), the court made it clear that the basic rule of public policy is that the courts will not recognize a benefit accruing to a criminal from his crime. Ultimately, the legal system has unequivocally clarified that criminals do not deserve to share in a benefit of a deceased’s estate if they intentionally caused their death.
Is a Criminal Conviction Required for the Slayer Rule to Apply in Civil Courts?
There does not necessarily need to be a criminal conviction or a criminal trial. The courts will bar a claim to benefit under another’s Will even if no criminal court proceedings took place; however, it must be satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that the person purporting to receive a benefit of the estate likely would have been convicted if a criminal trial did take place. In the case of Stacey v. Martinello 2022 BCSC 681 citing Re Fenotti Estate (Re), 2014 BSCS 1533, no trial had occurred but the person purporting to receive a benefit of the estate likely would have been convicted if a trial did take place. The case of Magnuson Estate, 2023 ABKB 305 also supports this notion by finding that the slayer rule may be invoked on a balance of probabilities by a civil court, even where a criminal conviction has not been entered.
Negligence and the Slayer Rule
Many have pondered the question of whether negligence causing death can trigger a claim under the slayer rule. Take, as an example, a situation where an elder is being cared for by their son who is named as a beneficiary under said elder’s Will. While taking care of their elderly parent, the son does something which negligently causes the death of their parent. Is this person entitled to their share of the estate? The short answer here is yes. Mere negligence causing or contributing to a testator’s death, in the absence of criminal misconduct, probably does not engage the slayer rule as per the case of O’Meara v Hall, 2006 ABCA 86. When a similar question was raised in the case of Jaworenko Estate (Re), 2013 ABQB 517, the same outcome was reaffirmed.
The general rule when applying the slayer rule is that nobody can benefit from another’s estate, as a matter of public policy, if they committed a crime which resulted in the death of the testator. There does not necessarily need to be a criminal conviction. The courts will bar a claim to benefit under another’s Will even if no criminal court proceedings took place; however, it must be satisfied, on a balance of probabilities, that the person purporting to receive a benefit of the estate likely would have been convicted if a criminal trial did take place. Furthermore, negligence causing or contributing to the death of a testator probably does not engage the slayer rule. It comes without question that the threshold to succeed under the slayer rule is a high one; as such, one should adequately analyze the facts at hand in serious depth (as well as seek legal advise) before attempting to use the rule.
If you have questions or concerns regarding the slayer rule, it is imperative to seek proper legal advice from a trained professional who specializes in estate litigation.
If you require more information with respect to the above, please contact our office 705-809-0930.