If you’ve heard Taylor Swift’s song ‘Anti-hero’ then you’ve probably noticed that she mentions her Will. The lyrics go:
‘I have this dream my daughter in law kills me for the money, she thinks I left them in the Will’
Obviously Taylor is referring to a hypothetical situation, she doesn’t presently have a daughter-in-law, and she is American and therefore the law of England and Wales would not apply. However, it is perhaps interesting to look at what would happen if Taylor was English and did have a daughter-in-law (let’s call her Lily) who killed her, thinking she would inherit under the Will.
Under the law of England and Wales, a beneficiary cannot benefit under the Will of someone they have unlawfully killed. This is known as the forfeiture rule. This rule was established for obvious reasons, it would not be just for someone to be able to benefit from the estate of their victim.
Imagining the scenario above, where Taylor Swift is British and killed by her daughter in law Lily. If Lily was included as a beneficiary in Taylor’s Will, she would not be entitled to receive a benefit under the Will due to the forfeiture rule.
If Taylor had included a default provision, stating what should happen to Lily’s share if it should fail then this default provision would take effect. If no default provision was included, what would happen to the gift depends on whether it was a pecuniary (cash) legacy, or a gift of a share of the Residuary Estate. If the gift to Lily was a pecuniary legacy, this would fail and form part of the Residuary Estate instead. If the gift was of a share of the Residuary Estate and no default provision was included, this would result in a partial intestacy.
Where a person did not leave a Will, or their Will fails to dispose of their entire estate, they are said to have died intestate, or partially intestate and their estate (or the share of it not disposed of in the Will) passes according to the intestacy rules. These rules set out who is to receive the deceased person’s estate. There is a set order of people who can benefit under the estate, depending whether the deceased had a surviving spouse or children, if there is nobody who can benefit in the first class of people, it moves to the next class and so on until there is someone who receives the estate. If the deceased had no family at all, the estate may pass to the crown.
Similarly, to where the deceased person left a Will, if the deceased person did not leave a Will, and the person who killed them was the person entitled to receive their estate (or a share of it) they would not be able to benefit in accordance with the forfeiture rule.
In summary, in Taylor’s hypothetical situation, even if Lily had been included in the Will, she would not have been able to benefit from Taylor’s estate under the forfeiture rule.
The above is meant to be only advice and is correct as of the time of posting. This article was written by Jessica Newton, Solicitor in the Private Client team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of May 2023.