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Should Elder Abusers Be Able to Inherit From Their Victims?

Say there's an older adult - let's call her Judy - who has difficulty caring for herself. Judy's son, Charles, is her primary caretaker, but he abuses her, pinching her and refusing to give her dinner if she doesn't stay quiet during his favorite TV show.  Judy's doctor notices that she has bruises on her arms and is rapidly losing weight; she reports Charles to family services, and Charles is eventually convicted of felony abuse.

Elder abuse

After several months, Judy dies of unrelated causes. As her only child, Charles is set to inherit her estate.

But in such cases, should an abuser be allowed to benefit from a victim's death?

Increasingly, courts and legislatures are starting to look at this issue and answer "no."

Historically, "slayer" statutes applied only in situations where a murder victim's killer would have profited from the death. For example, if Charles had killed Judy, he would clearly be barred from inheriting anything from her in all 50 states.

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Many states are now applying slayer statutes to abuse and neglect situations where the victim does not die. These might include financial exploitation, physical abuse or neglect.

But let's change our hypothetical circumstances a bit. Let's say that Judy forgives Charles after he is convicted of abusing her. Should Charles inherit in that case?

Like so many legal issues, the answer varies from state to state. In Washington state, for example, the "slayer" statute applies to financial abuse but allows the victim to forgive his or her abuser, voiding the effects of the statute. In Michigan, a newly amended slayer statute covers many forms of felony abuse and neglect and does not allow for forgiveness. Several other states, including Kentucky, California, and Oregon, have also dealt with these difficult questions.

What do you think?

Photo: triffit/istockphoto

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