In this post, we will examine whether an heir that murdered an intestate decedent (a person who died without a will) may inherit under Texas law. This article will not address inheritance under a will or by contract (e.g. life insurance policy). The Texas Estates Code and Texas Insurance code address those issues and are outside the scope of this post.
At English common law, any criminal that committed a capital offense may not inherit. Ex parte Garland, 71 U.S. 333, 387 (1866). Most likely because Texas was populated in large part by criminals, Texas has not adopted the English rule. The general rule in Texas is that a criminal may inherit property. In re B.S.W.,87 S.W.3d 766, 770 (Tex. Appl—Texarkana 2002, pet. Denied). However, there are exceptions to the general rule.
The idea that a husband that killed a wife or a child that murdered a parent may inherit and therefore benefit from a terrible act was abhorrent to the society at large and Texas courts. As usually the case, such a wrong was solved by applying equity. Texas courts have held that a constructive trust will operate to prevent property from passing to a murderous heir. A constructive trust is a legal vehicle created by the courts formulated to prevent unjust enrichment. KCM Fin. LLC v. Bradshaw, 457 S.W.3d 70 (Tex. 2015). Note that an heir (not the killer) must bring an action against the heir that committed the murder for the court to apply a constructive trust, thereby depriving the heir that committed the murder of any property. Bounds v. Caudle, 560 S.W.2d 925, 928 (Tex. 1977).
Slayer’s rules in Texas involve a complex area of probate law. It is important to consult an experienced attorney should you have questions or issues concerning a decedent that was killed by an heir or a beneficiary to a will or life insurance policy.
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