Assisted Suicide is Fatal

Coffin

The law against forfeiture provides that a person responsible for the death of another cannot be allowed to benefit from that person’s Estate. This includes cases where the death was the result of murder, manslaughter or assisted suicide.

Case study

Mr Nolan had been convicted of assisting Mr Wilson (the Deceased) to commit suicide in 2009. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment. Mr N was the sole Executor and Beneficiary under Mr W's Will.

The Public Trustee contended that Mr N was not capable of acting as Executor under Mr W's Will because Mr N’s right to act as Executor arose from his crime in assisting Mr W to commit suicide. Further, it was submitted that Mr N had forfeited the benefit he would otherwise have taken under Mr W’s Will as sole Beneficiary of his Estate.

Mr N tried to rely on the special circumstances of the case and asked the Court to exercise a discretion not to apply the Rule. These included Mr W's long standing fear of being disabled to the point where he could not function independently, his deteriorating health and the fact that his taking of the tablets was entirely independent of Mr N whose only role had been to procure the tablets from Mexico.

The Court rejected this argument and found that the Rule is inflexible and absolute, as “once one identifies the causal relationship between the crime and the death, and that is established essentially by the conviction, then any entitlement under the deceased estate is, without more, forfeited.” The law in Queensland being clear, the Chief Justice observed that “it is irrelevant that the offender may have been motivated to ease suffering or to have acted at the request of the Deceased.”

As Mr N was unable to remain as Executor of the Estate, the Public Trustee was appointed in his place. Mr W was treated as though he did not have a Will (because Mr Nolan was disqualified as a beneficiary), so his Estate went to his relatives on the basis that Mr Wilson died intestate (see Part 3 of the Queensland Succession Act).

Conclusion

In an Estate where an unlawful killing has occurred, the Executor will need to consider the application of the forfeiture rule. A Declaration from the Supreme Court as to beneficiary entitlements would be advisable. The involvement of the Public Trustee (or an alternative Executor) in the administration of the Estate may be required where the Executor’s right to act as Executor arose from their involvement in the crime.

For more information

The Public Trustee of Queensland v The Public Trustee of Queensland & Ors [2014] QSC 47

WARNING

This article reflected the state of the law at the time of publication. But the law is a living creation which is constantly changing and adapting. These articles should be treated as an information resource only and not as a substitute for specific legal advice in respect to your particular problems and circumstances.

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