Court Rules Against Allowing Man Who Killed Partner To Inherit her Estate

Forfeiture Rules In Spotlight After Case

29.09.2014

A court has ruled against allowing a man who killed his partner and child last year from making a claim in relation to her £80,000 estate.

Paul Chadwick, who was released from a mental health unit in order to launch the legal action, argued that his mental state at the time of the killings should be considered when it came to deciding on whether he should be entitled to an inheritance.

Mr Chadwick attempted to kill himself after he stabbed Lisa Clay and their six-year-old son Joseph, and was sentenced to an indefinite hospital order in October after admitting two counts of manslaughter on the grounds of diminished responsibility.

Mrs Clay’s will stated that she wanted all of her assets to be transferred to her partner in the event of her death, but current law states someone convicted of manslaughter cannot inherit from their victims or profit from their crimes.

The legal action by Mr Chadwick was based on the fact that such rules on forfeiture can be modified to take into account the conduct of an offender or other relevant material.

Judge Mark Pelling QC however dismissed the claim, stating the evidence available did not establish if the mental health of the claimant at the time caused him to kill the pair. He added that “the justice of this case does not require that I modify the forfeiture rule”.

Expert Opinion
Current rules on forfeiture, outlined in the Forfeiture Act 1982, state that a beneficiary cannot take under a will if they have unlawfully killed the testator or alternatively unlawfully aided, abetted, counselled or procured their death.

"As this case highlights however, the court has the power to modify the forfeiture rule as long as the beneficiary has not been convicted of murder. This in effect means the beneficiary can ask the court to waive the forfeiture rule so that they can benefit.

"When looking at this issue, the court will have regard to the conduct of the beneficiary, the conduct of the deceased and to such other circumstances as appear to the court to be material. Having considered the circumstances of this case the court clearly decided that it was not appropriate to grant relief.

"An example of a case where relief from forfeiture has been granted is Dunbar (administrator of the estate of Dunbar (deceased)) v Plant [1998] Ch 412). Briefly, this was a suicide pact between two people where one died and the other, who benefited from the death, survived. It was held that the public interest would not normally call for forfeiture where the beneficiary had aided and abetted a suicide.

"The circumstances of the Dunbar case are obviously very different to the one decided this week. This recent case demonstrates that the court has discretion in considering applications for relief from forfeiture and that each case is always considered on its individual circumstances."
Paula Myers, Partner