Articles | Wills: a recent court ruling on the forfeiture rule

Bill Dixon a partner and member of FSP’s Inheritance and Trust Disputes Team, comments on a recent court decision about when someone guilty of murder or manslaughter can inherit.

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Bill Dixon

Bill Dixon

A recent case called Henderson –v- Wilcox has clarified the forfeiture rule. This rule says that, as a matter of public policy, someone who has unlawfully killed another person cannot acquire a benefit as a consequence of the killing. For example, if a husband murders his wife he cannot then inherit under her will. In Henderson –v- Wilcox a son with mental health problems killed his mother. Two issues were dealt with:

First, the house that they both lived in had been put into a family protection trust. The court held that the forfeiture rule did not apply to this situation. The son was a potential beneficiary under the trust because of the structure of the trust. This had not come about directly because of his mother’s death.

Second, other assets were left to the son in the mother’s will. In relation to these, the son applied for relief from the forfeiture rule under the 1982 Forfeiture Act. Although the court recognised the son had various difficulties, it decided in this instance not to modify the strictness of the forfeiture rule. The court held that this was a case of a very serious nature and that at all times the son had had the mental capacity to know what he was doing.