In Australia, the Forfeiture Act exists to prevent people from benefiting after unlawfully killing someone. So, how was it possible for a man who shot his parents dead to receive $100,000 from their estate?
The answer lies in the complexities of forfeiture rules and the Succession Act. Here is our summary of the case, which highlights the different factors that can arise in some of the most traumatic Will disputes.
How did the inheritance dispute arise?
On December 3 2014, a 46-year-old man killed both his parents with a shotgun after having a minor argument with his father. He was subsequently found not guilty of murder because he suffered from previously undiagnosed paranoid schizophrenia.
His parents’ Wills declared their estates, which were worth a total of $2 million, would pass to him and his sister in equal shares. However, his sister – the sole executor of both estates – argued that her brother should not receive his legacy due to the Forfeiture Act.
But while forfeiture rules cover murders, they are not automatically applied in situations where a person is found not guilty of murder due to mental health issues. Instead, a judge has the power to either modify the forfeiture rules where necessary, or make a forfeiture application order to enforce them.
What was the judge’s decision in Will dispute?
Justice Geoff Lindsay decided to apply a conditional forfeiture rule that prevented the man from receiving the majority of his $1 million legacy.
“Allowing for the defendant’s experience of mental illness, and the absence of criminal responsibility for the deaths of his parents, a primary factor telling in favour of an order of any type being made is the pre-meditated, violent and merciless character of the killings, reinforced by a lack of remorse,” he said.
Nevertheless, Justice Lindsay also ruled that $50,000 should be set aside from the estate of each parent for the maintenance, education and advancement of their son. The $100,000 will remain under the management of NSW Trustee or another similar organisation until the man is released from a correctional facility, where he will stay until he is no longer a danger to the public.
Would you like to challenge someone’s Will?
While this was a particularly unusual case, inheritance disputes are often complex and anyone embarking on a family provision claim or Will contestations should contact expert legal advisers.
At Gerard Malouf & Partners Will Dispute Lawyers, we provide a comprehensive no-win, no-fee service to ensure you have the support you need without having to worry about the financial burden of pursuing a case.