Law Office of John S. Palmer Attorney at Law

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Disinheritance of Financial Abusers

Posted Friday, June 20, 2014 by John S. Palmer

I was involved in a case recently involving allegations of financial exploitation of an elderly parent by an adult child. This brought into play the provisions of RCW 11.84 automatically disinheriting anyone “who participates, either as a principal or an accessory before the fact, in the willful and unlawful financial exploitation of a vulnerable adult.”

The statute historically prevented those who participate in the willful and unlawful killing of another person from inheriting from the victim; it was amended in 2009 to apply to financial abusers as well.

The so-called slayer and abuser statute achieves its goal by deeming the wrongdoer to have predeceased the victim. However, the statute does not address whether or not the children of the wrongdoer may automatically inherit instead pursuant to Washington’s anti-lapse statute, which generally provides that if certain close family members die first, the share of the decedent’s estate that would have been due the predeceased relative passes automatically to that relative’s issue.

The case I was involved in was settled, thereby negating any need to tackle the issue of whether the alleged abuser’s children would inherit in his place. As fate would have it, a few days later the Court of Appeals clarified the ambiguity in the statute by holding that the anti-lapse statute still applies even if a family member is disinherited by the slayer/abuser statute.

The decision in Estate of Evans (decided May 27, 2014) notes that that the legislature could have specified that a slayer or abuser’s descendants were also to be disinherited, but chose not to do so. The court declined to adopt an equitable exception to the anti-lapse statute in cases where the wrongdoer would benefit from any inheritance received by his or her issue, stating that “any incidental benefit to the abuser does not warrant denying benefits to the abuser’s innocent heirs” in part because the statute expresses “a natural and instinctive concern for the welfare of those in a testator’s bloodline.”

Of course, a testator may simply state in his or her will that the anti-lapse statute does not apply to some or all of the bequests, but the intent to preclude operation of the statute must be clearly shown. This can be done in a number of ways, typically by requiring a beneficiary to survive the testator and making an alternate disposition if the beneficiary fails to do so. In the Evans case, there was no such provision in the decedent’s will; therefore unless the case is appealed further, the children of the person found to have financially exploited his father will inherit in his place.

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Law Office of John S. Palmer11911 NE 1st St, Ste. B204,Bellevue, WA 98005-3056