The Colorado Supreme Court published an opinion this summer involving what is commonly referred to as the “slayer statute.” In re Estate of Feldman, 443 P.3d 66 (Colo. 2019). The slayer statute, Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-803, generally stands for the premise that a killer cannot inherit from his or her victim.
The husband in Feldman was charged with murder of his wife almost three years after her death and after he had received life insurance proceeds. A portion of those life insurance proceeds had been paid to the trust account of the law firm representing the husband for payment of his criminal defense. The guardian of the two minor children brought a petition in Probate Court to recover the life insurance funds pursuant to the slayer statute. As a result of requests to freeze the funds pending the outcome of the slayer case, the Probate Court, using its equitable powers, ordered the law firm to deposit the trust account funds into the court’s registry and to disclose the source of the funds.
Upon the husband’s C.A.R. 21 petition, the Colorado Supreme Court found that the Probate Court abused its discretion in issuing its order without a finding that the facts met the standard for a preliminary injunction, including a finding of reasonable likelihood of success on the merits. The Court further held that even if the husband was found to be the killer pursuant to the slayer statute, the law firm would not have to return the funds. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 15-11-803(9) provides that a person who receives payment in partial or full satisfaction of a legally enforceable obligation is not obligated or liable to return the funds under the slayer statute. Interestingly, the court ruled that money in a law firm’s trust account, even if not yet earned, is considered money received pursuant to a legal obligation. There are other interesting aspects of the opinion, including some discussion of the probate court’s equitable powers. You can view the opinion here.