By Jason Stern
Simply stated, can someone murder you and inherit your estate? Historically, the rules of the New York Estate Law have been that you cannot directly profit through an intentional wrongful act such as murder or fraud. However the NY Estate Lawwas recently faced with a circumstance where it had to decide if one could indirectly profit from an intentional bad act, in this case manslaughter.
When people think about the practice of NY estate law they usually do not think about murder. Unfortunately as a NY estate lawyer with fifteen years of experience handling the most complicated estate matters in New York I have to disagree. From my experience as a NY estate litigator the most horrific crimes imaginable often occur near the end of one’s life when they are solitary, vulnerable and often feeble. While I find more and more New York estate planning clients living much longer, healthier lives with their faculties in tact, this group is still among the most susceptible to criminals.
Pursuant to the New York Estate Law as stated in Matter of Wirth, one cannot be convicted of an intentional act that caused the death of another while benefiting from their New York estate. In this particular case Matter of Edwards, the decedent, Diane Edwards, was murdered by her 28 year old son-in-law, Brandon Palladino. At the time, Brandon Palladino, was married to Diane Edwards’s daughter, 24 year old Deanna Palladino. Brandon and Deanna were both heavy drug users. On the night of December 17, 2008, Brandon Palladino strangled his mother-in-law Diane to death when she walked in on him stealing her jewelry to feed his drug addiction. Brandon would later plead guilty to the lesser offense of manslaughter receiving a 25-year prison sentence.
Dianne Edwards, left behind a will bequeathing her entire estate, a $265,000.00 home, to her daughter Deanna Palladino. After the probate of the will of Diane Edwards in an unfortunate twist of fate on February 9, 2010, Deanna Palladino, died of a drug overdose. This left her husband, Brandon Palladino who murdered her mother as her sole distributee of the $265,000.00 estate. As such Brandon Palladino’s attorneys sought to recover the estate asset from his deceased wife’s estate.
While it is well established under the NY estate law that one who takes the life of another may not benefit from their wrongdoing, it was unclear if it applied here. The NY estate lawyers for Palladino argued that since their client did not actually kill the decedent’s daughter Deanna Palladino who died of a drug overdose, this concept would not apply. Luckily, the Court disagreedgoing a step further than prior rulings. Here the Court stated that even in the absence of a specific act in the death of his wife Deanna, the Court would not assist a wrongdoer in profiting from a wrong by permitting the use of a technical argument such as an intervening heir, Deanna to sufficiently distance the wrongdoer from his wrong. Simply stated, the Court in Matter of Edwardsfound that had Brandon Palladino not killed Diane Edwards there would be no estate for him to now inherit. As such, Brandon Palladino’s act of murdering his mother-in-law could not be washed clean by the intervening overdose of his wife.
As among the most experienced NY estate lawyers in this city, we are very familiar with the bad acts that occur near the end of one’s life. Often the best way to prepare your estate is by drafting a simple will. While Diane Edwards’s will did not save her life, the NY Estate Law ensured that the right outcome was eventually reached regarding her estate.
As a New York Estate Lawyer, I cannot stress the value of having an attorney drafted will enough. If you or a loved one are thinking about drafting a new will or challenging an existing one please call one of our New York Estate Lawyers at the Law Offices of Jason W. Stern & Associates at (718) 261-2444 for a free consultation.