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Man murdered by his brother due to inheritance dispute

View profile for Amanda Smallcombe
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When you are disputing a loved one’s inheritance, emotions will often run high. However, it is rare that someone will take such drastic steps as to murder a sibling. Last week, Richard Martin was convicted of his brother’s murder and was sentenced to a minimum of 18 years’ imprisonment. 

Richard was aggrieved that his brother, John, inherited their parent’s house. Richard believed that his brother had forged their father’s will. The will was made after Richard had been asked to leave the house by his father following his mother’s death.

In sentencing, the Judge said, “The background to this case makes sad reading. It is an example of how money and possessions can be a force for evil when they tear a family apart”.

Given the acrimony between them, it is unlikely that John left a will making provision for Richard. But, even if he has, or if Richard is due to inherit John’s estate under the rules of intestacy, in fact, he will receive nothing because of the forfeiture rule.

What is the forfeiture rule? 

The forfeiture rule is based on the principle that it is against public policy to allow a criminal to claim any benefit by virtue of his crime.

The forfeiture rule applies to gifts by will or by the rules of intestacy, and to murder and manslaughter. In a case involving manslaughter, however, the court has the discretion to modify the effect of the rule so that, sometimes, “where the justice of the case requires”, a person who has been responsible for the death of another can inherit some or all of their estate.

The exercise of the court's discretion is a sensitive one. The case of Ninian v Findlay and others, decided in February this year, is such an example.

Alexander Ninian, chose to end his own life with the assistance of Dignitas in Switzerland. His wife, Sarah, accompanied him on his final journey. She was with him when he was assessed by the representatives at Dignitas and when he died.

The Crown Prosecution Service did not prosecute Sarah. She was not convicted of any crime, but, as the sole beneficiary of Alexander’s will, she applied to the court for relief from the forfeiture rule, in case it applied, and was successful.

Needless to say, these cases are complex and relief from forfeiture remains rare. The court must take into account many factors. Richard’s conviction for the violent murder of his brother quite rightly precludes him from being eligible.

On the other hand, the case of Sarah Ninian is so very different. Who would argue that she should not have inherited her beloved husband’s estate? All she did was accompany him on his final journey to be with him in his last hours.

If you are disputing a loved one’s will, or if someone is disputing your inheritance, please contact our expert inheritance dispute lawyers for advice. I am a contentious probate solicitor based in our Colchester office and can be contacted on 01206 217395 or amanda.smallcombe@birkettlong.co.uk.

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