Slayer statute in effect on date of death, not date of murder conviction, applies to estate.

In 2009, Clayton Devoy Lynn was convicted of the 2005 murder of his mother, Collette Lynn Lockard. At the time of her death, Collette was survived by her son Clayton, Clayton’s children, Abigail and Jordan, and her mother, Lena. Under her will, Collette named her son as sole beneficiary and did not name contingent beneficiaries.

The Virginia slayer statute in effect at the time of Collette’s death provided that neither Clayton (as the slayer under the statute by his criminal conviction) nor any person claiming “through” Clayton could acquire any property from Collette’s estate. The Virginia slayer statute was modified in 2008 to provide that an heir who establishes kinship to the decedent by way of the slayer is deemed to be claiming “from” the decedent, and not “through” the slayer, and thus would be entitled to take property.

Abigail and Jordan sued for declaratory judgment that they were entitled to receive Collette’s estate as her intestate heirs under the slayer statute in effect at the time of Clayton’s criminal conviction in 2009. Lena claimed to be her daughter’s sole heir under the slayer statute in effect at the time of Collette’s murder. The circuit court held that Collette’s estate was distributable to her mother Lena by operation of the slayer statute in effect at the time of Collette’s murder.  

On appeal, the Virginia Supreme Court affirmed the circuit court on the grounds that Collette’s estate was governed by the slayer statue in effect on the date of Collette’s murder, stating that “Virginia has long recognized that the law in existence on the date of a decedent’s death governs the distribution of the decedent’s estate.”