In her chart-topping hit “Anti-Hero,” Taylor Swift admits that she is already thinking about estate planning. She sings:
I have this dream my daughter-in-law kills me for the money
She thinks I left them in the will
The family gathers ‘round and reads it
And then someone screams out
“She’s laughing up at us from hell!”
The song’s music video goes even more in-depth on this scenario. Her heirs read her will over her casket and find out they have been left a whopping $.13 while her beach house is turned into a cat sanctuary. Her sons bicker, then one accuses the other’s wife of pushing Swift off a balcony to her death. It’s pretty wild!
It’s also pretty unrealistic.
Most families do not have dramatic will reading ceremonies — especially not at their loved one’s funeral. In fact, in a lot of families, the only person who actually reads through the estate plan is the trustee or estate administrator tasked with carrying out the deceased person’s last requests.
Swift’s decision to disinherit her family because she fears one of them will murder her is also a bit far-fetched. There are plenty of reasons to disinherit people who would otherwise benefit from your death, but fear of being murdered is not one of them.
The Slayer Rule
Most states have what is known as a “slayer rule” that prevents anyone who commits murder from financially benefiting from it. Here in Mississippi, we actually have two different slayer provisions on the books.
§ 91-5-33 applies when the person who died had an estate plan in place. It says:
“If any person shall wilfully cause or procure the death of another in any manner, he shall not take the property, or any part thereof, real or personal, of such other under any will, testament, or codicil. Any devise to such person shall be void and, as to the property so devised, the decedent shall be deemed to have died intestate.”
§ 91-1-25 applies when the person who died dies intestate, which is the legal word for without an estate plan. It says:
“If any person wilfully cause or procure the death of another in any way, he shall not inherit the property, real or personal, of such other; but the same shall descend as if the person so causing or procuring the death had predeceased the person whose death he perpetrated.”
Both statutes prohibit someone who “willfully” causes the death of another from inheriting anything from the victim. Over the years, the courts have interpreted the slayer statutes and the legal definition of willfully in various cases. They have decided that insane persons lack the capacity to willfully cause death, so they are allowed to inherit. They have also allowed drunk drivers to inherit after causing the death of a passenger because drunk driving is defined as negligent under state law. There are few if any other scenarios where someone who has caused the death of another is still allowed to inherit.
You Don’t Need A Reason To Disinherit Someone
One thing Swift’s music video does get right is vagueness of the bequest to her theoretical children. While the pop icon is known for dropping hints and leaving Easter Eggs in her music and social media posts — something the 13-cent bequest is likely a reference to — estate planning documents are not the place to leave cryptic messages to loved ones. In fact, it is best to make estate plan language very straightforward, and cut any unnecessary explanatory language that could open the door to a legal challenge.
If you choose to disinherit a close family member, the Palmer & Slay team can help you draft clear and concise language that expresses your wishes. Whether you want to prevent a loved one with a substance abuse issue from getting their hands on a chunk of change that could send them to an early grave, or you want to cut someone out because you gave them their inheritance while you were still alive, our team can help make sure your wishes are respected.
Preserving Your Wealth. Protecting Your Loved Ones.
While we hope none of our Brandon, Mississippi area clients have serious concerns about how the slayer rule may impact their estate plan, we are here to help you address all the concerns you may have about end-of-life planning. Please contact us today to schedule a meeting.