Wife who murdered husband can’t claim on estate


In the recent case of Edward v State Trustees Limited [2016] VSCA 28 a wife who killed her husband in self-defence was not allowed to receive her husband’s estate under his will.

In the discussion of the facts of the case there was a history of violence inflicted on the wife during her marriage and the wife also had been diagnosed as suffering from anxiety and depression. During a physical assault, the wife grabbed a knife and stabbed her husband.

The wife pleaded guilty to defensive homicide and accepted that her actions were disproportionate to any threat her husband posed to her. The wife also accepted that she intended to kill her husband or seriously injure him.

Under her husband’s will, she was to receive all the benefits of her husband’s estate. However, under intestacy laws, the estate went to the deceased’s daughter.

The question for the court in this case was as follows:

Does the criminal culpability of the offender require that they should not be entitled to take a benefit arising from the death?

The court discussed the application of the “forfeiture rule” which prevents a person from taking a benefit in circumstances where that person would benefit from their own crime.

In the case of a murder, the forfeiture rule always applies. However, in the case of manslaughter the application of the rule will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

The court found that in this case the wife was guilty of an act of deliberate and intentional violence which was not excused by her unhappy marriage or ongoing depression. This meant she could not receive her husband’s estate which ended up going to his daughter. The court noted that whilst this was a sad case, the wife should not be able to benefit under her husband’s will.

Click here to view the court case: Edward v State Trustees Limited [2016] VSCA 28

By Natasha Ng

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