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Can Killers Inherit from Their Victims?

Have you ever wondered whether someone who murders another person can inherit from their estate? In years past, there have been several California cases where children have murdered their parents, sometimes for money, as was alleged in the famous Menendez case in Los Angeles. Two brothers, Eric and Lyle Menendez, were tried and convicted of murdering their parents in 1989 to inherit what they thought was a $14 million estate. As it turned out, after taxes, loans, and costs of defense, they each would have inherited only about $ 2 million each. They were prevented from inheriting their parents’ estate.

The California Probate Code Section 250 has a section that provides that a person who “feloniously and intentionally kills the decedent” is not entitled to “any property, interest, or benefit under a will of the decedent or a trust…” This would also include life insurance proceeds or assets left to the killer as a designated beneficiary. You may remember Scott Peterson who was convicted of killing his wife. He was prevented from receiving benefits from his wife’s insurance policy.

All states in this country have similar laws to prevent someone who kills another from inheriting from the victim of their crime. In addition many states have adopted laws to make it difficult for convicted killers to sell their story and keep the money for themselves. These so-called “Son of Sam” laws came from the case where serial killer David Berkowitz, nicknamed the Son of Sam, was planning to profit from the sale of his story. California passed a “Son of Sam” law in 1986 prohibiting felons from profiting from their crimes. This law was struck down in 2002 as being unconstitutional. Today “Son of Sam” laws are sometimes put into plea bargains to provide that any profits from book deal or movies will go to the U. S. Treasury. Another remedy for victims is that they can sue their perpetrators in civil court, as in the O.J.Simpson case, and obtain a judgment which would be satisfied by book and movie profits.

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