EFFECT OF CRIME OF MURDER ON INHERITANCE

As a general rule, courts will not allow a murderer to profit from his crime. Whether that profit is in the form of some type of inheritance Diamond v. Ganci, 328 Mass. 315, 103 N.E.2d 716 (1952), right of action, Mattingly v. Casey, 24 Mass.App.Ct. 452, 509 N.E.2d 1220 (1987) or insurance proceeds, Slocum v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 245 Mass. 565, 139 N.E. 816 (1923). See also, 2 Belknap, Newhall's Settlement of Estates and Fiduciary Law in Massachusetts, The Lawyer's Cooperative Publishing Company (Fifth Edition, 1997).

In all instances, Courts have noted that any other outcome would violate "...the rule of public policy which prevents a murderer from profiting from his own wrong..." Diamond v. Ganci, 103 N.E.2d at 718.  Certainly the various holdings in the caselaw demonstrate a consistent adherence to the public policy as relates to beneficiaries under a will, statutory heirs and beneficiaries under a Life Insurance policy.  However, the case of Diamond v. Ganci is instructive as it relates to realty held in a tenancy by the entirety.

In that case a husband had murdered his wife and a creditor of the wife brought an action to liquidate the debt out of the overage remaining subsequent to the foreclosure of the couple's home. Diamond at 717. Husband and wife had held the realty as tenants by the entirety.  The Appeals Court found inter alia, that because the husband was a tenant by the entirety, he had not received any new title by virtue of the wife's death, and therefore he had not lost his rights in the realty by virtue of the murder. Id at 718.  Rather, the court found that he as the "...survivor holds under the deed creating the tenancy by virtue of which he was originally seized of the whole..." Id. at 718 (emphasis added), and the creditor could therefore collect the debt from the husband.

There is language in the case that suggests that in such a case, the tenant by the entirety/murderer would hold the realty as the trustee for the deceased spouse's estate, Id at 719. But note that no language therein suggests that the murderer would be prohibited from mortgaging his interest.